Spatial scales of population synchrony in predator-prey systems
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionAmerican Naturalist. 2020, 195 (2), 216-230. https://doi.org/10.1086/706913
Many species show synchronous fluctuations in population size over large geographical areas, which are likely to increase their regional extinction risk. Here we examine how the degree of spatial synchrony in population dynamics is affected by trophic interactions using a two-species predator-prey model with spatially correlated environmental noise. We show that the predator has a larger spatial scale of population synchrony than the prey if the population fluctuations of both species are mainly determined by the direct effect of stochastic environmental variations in the prey. This result implies that in ecosystems regulated from the bottom up, the spatial scale of synchrony of the predator population increases beyond the scale of the spatial autocorrelation in the environmental noise and in the prey fluctuations. Harvesting the prey increases the spatial scale of population synchrony of the predator, while harvesting the predator reduces the spatial scale of the population fluctuations of its prey. Hence, the development of sustainable harvesting strategies should also consider the impact on unharvested species at other trophic levels as well as human perturbations of ecosystems, whether the result of exploitation or an effect on dispersal processes, as they can affect food web structures and trophic interactions over large geographical areas.