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Metacommunity research can benefit from including context-dependency
  • Jurek Kolasa,
  • Matthew Hammond,
  • Joyce Yan
Jurek Kolasa
McMaster University Faculty of Science

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Matthew Hammond
McMaster University Faculty of Science
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Joyce Yan
McMaster University Faculty of Science
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Abstract

Context-dependency, C-D, of outcomes occurs when several factors affect a focal metric. Remedies for treating milder cases of C-D are readily available but severe cases, where some contributory factors cause non-linear changes in others, escaped routine scrutiny. This poses a universal challenge to standard research strategies. We suggest that metacommunity framework may be particularly vulnerable because its core notions (habitat structure, dispersal, and species interactions) are functionally entangled. When these notions are generalized to include many species and situations, they become interdependent. To illustrate the significance of such interdependence, we test two hypotheses. One that holding combination of parameters constant in all but one dimension, can alter inference of a study and the second that the severity of context-dependency increases when core metacommunity dimensions interact and transform one another through a variety of mechanisms. The results support these ideas and imply that C-D predicts a dauntingly vast space of possible empirical outcomes and interpretations, most of which can arise from reciprocal interactions among metacommunity core dimensions. We proffer that an adaptable and structured use of macro-variables is a place to start investigating metacommunity mechanisms more efficiently.