Can people change the ecological rules that appear general across space?

Šizling, Arnošt L.; Pokorný, Petr; Juřičková, Lucie; Horáčková, Jitka; Abraham, Vojtěch; Šizlingová, Eva; Ložek, Vojen; Tjørve, Even ; Tjørve , K.M.C.; Kunin, William, E.,
Published: 2016
Global Ecology and Biogeography 25: 1072-1084., DOI: 10.1111/geb.12467
Aim Projections of human impact on the environment and biodiversity patterns are crucial if we are to prevent their destruction. Such projections usually involve the assumption that the same human activities always affect biodiversity in the same way, either in geographically distant areas within the same time-scale or in the same areas in different periods. In this paper, plant and snail fossils from central Europe that cover the last 12,000 years provide evidence against this assumption.

Location Central Europe.

Methods We examined fossil data on central European plants and snails and extracted time-series of (1) local species richness (alpha diversity) at a scale of approximately 300 m 3 300 m and decays of (2) the Jaccard index and (3) Simpson’s beta with increasing distance (up to approximately 400 km) through time.

Results We show that two vital biodiversity patterns follow neither oxygen isotope nor borehole temperature proxies, but instead vary between archaeologically known periods, with the most noticeable and irreversible breaks (1) when arable agriculture was introduced into central Europe, (2) when the Roman Empire collapsed, and (3) during the event known as the 12th-century colonization in central Europe. The patterns computed from data across time sometimes contradicted the patterns computed across space.

Main conclusions We therefore infer that people can, and sometimes have, contributed to temporal changes in ecological rules that are seemingly general across space. Our findings indicate that the changes in ecological rules are so substantial that efforts to project future biodiversity based on space-for-time substitution might fail, unless we gain knowledge about how these general rules are altered.

Keywords Alpha diversity, archaeobotany, distance decay, Holocene, Jaccard index, malacology, Simpson beta.