A critical analysis of the ubiquity of linear local–regional richness relationships

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Abstract

Synthesis

Despite theoretical criticisms, the ubiquity of linear relationships between local and regional species richness has long been used to justify it as a valid framework to conclude that local communities are not saturated with species. However, we reanalyzed published studies with a new unbiased method and found no prevalence of linear relationships and more than 40% of misclassifications, including textbook examples. We thus conclude that the prevailing argument in favor of associating a valid ecological interpretation to local–regional species richness plots, its ubiquity, is not sustained, and that ecologists could use for instance metacommunity theory to make inference on the strength of local and regional processes.

Synthesis

Identifying the relative importance of regional and local processes to local species diversity is a central issue to many questions in basic and applied ecology. One widely-used method is to plot local species richness against its regional richness to infer whether regional or local processes determine local diversity. However, this method increases the tendency to find regional prevalence as suggested by a recent simulation. We reanalyzed studies in the literature with an unbiased method and found no prevalence of either regional or local processes. In addition, almost 40% of the studies and 50% of the ecology textbook examples using the traditional method were misclassified. Our findings reinforce the need of alternative, novel tools identified by for instance metacommunity theory to go beyond the studies of local–regional relationships in the ecological literature that focus on the interdependence of regional and local processes.

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