NCEAS Product 24948

Blonder, Benjamin; Sloat, Lindsey L.; Enquist, Brian J.; McGill, Brian J. 2014. Separating macroecological pattern and process: Comparing ecological, economic, and geological Systems. PLoS ONE. Vol: 9(11). Pages e112850. (Abstract) (Online version)


Theories of biodiversity rest on several macroecological patterns describing the relationship between species abundance and diversity. A central problem is that all theories make similar predictions for these patterns despite disparate assumptions. A troubling implication is that these patterns may not reflect anything unique about organizational principles of biology or the functioning of ecological systems. To test this, we analyze five datasets from ecological, economic, and geological systems that describe the distribution of objects across categories in the United States. At the level of functional form (‘first-order effects’), these patterns are not unique to ecological systems, indicating they may reveal little about biological process. However, we show that mechanism can be better revealed in the scale-dependency of first-order patterns (‘second-order effects’). These results provide a roadmap for biodiversity theory to move beyond traditional patterns, and also suggest ways in which macroecological theory can constrain the dynamics of economic systems.