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Studying the spatial structuring of chemical elements through the prism of community and landscape ecology
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  • Anne McLeod,
  • Shawn Leroux,
  • Chelsea Little,
  • Francois Massol,
  • Eric vender Wal,
  • Yolanda Wiersma,
  • Isabelle Gounand,
  • Nicolas Loeuille,
  • Eric Harvey
Anne McLeod
Memorial University of Newfoundland Department of Biology
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Shawn Leroux
Memorial University
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Chelsea Little
Simon Fraser University
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Francois Massol
Universite de Lille
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Eric vender Wal
Memorial University of Newfoundland
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Yolanda Wiersma
Memorial University
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Isabelle Gounand
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Nicolas Loeuille
Sorbonne Université
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Eric Harvey
Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Corresponding Author:eric.harvey@uqtr.ca

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Approximatively 25 chemical elements are essential for the maintenance, growth and reproduction of all living organisms. Hence, the movement, distribution, and relative proportions of those elements on the landscape should influence the structure and functioning of biological communities. Yet our basic understanding for the spatial distribution of elements across landscapes is limited. Here, we propose to apply tools from community and landscape ecology to study spatial patterns in elements. We illustrate this framework using tree leaves elemental composition and demonstrate how spatial grain and spatial dissimilarity of elements interact leading to predictable patterns in elemental distributions at various spatial scales. Meanwhile, further analysis revealed that potassium and calcium are the most important elemental contributors to spatial dissimilarity in leaf elements, raising new questions about their role in, or response to, distributions of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Our framework provides a way to integrate abiotic and biotic processes, demonstrating how we can use community metrics to investigate variability of individual elements across landscapes. We conclude by hypothesizing that changes in the evenness or beta-diversity of elements should reflect the structure of biotic communities, providing a long-sought mechanistic link between community and ecosystem processes that can be measured directly in the field.