Biodiversity Conservation In Metacommunity Networks: Linking Pattern And Persistence
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A central goal of conservation science is to identify the most important habitat patches for maintaining biodiversity on a landscape. Spatial biodiversity patterns are often used for such assessments, and patches that harbor unique diversity are generally prioritized over those with high community similarity to other areas. This places an emphasis on biodiversity representation, but removing a patch can have cascading effects on biodiversity persistence in the remaining ecological communities. Metacommunity theory provides a mechanistic route to the linking of biodiversity patterns on a landscape with the subsequent dynamics of diversity loss after habitat is degraded. Using spatially explicit neutral theory, I focus on the situation where spatial patterns of diversity and similarity are generated by the structure of dispersal networks and not environmental gradients. I find that gains in biodiversity representation are nullified by losses in persistence, and as a result the effects of removing a patch on metacommunity diversity are essentially independent of complementarity or other biodiversity patterns. In this scenario, maximizing protected area and not biodiversity representation is the key to maintaining diversity in the long term. These results highlight the need for a broader understanding of how conservation paradigms perform under different models of metacommunity dynamics.