Brush, M., Matthews, T.J., Borges, P.A.V. & Harte, J. (2022) Land use change through the lens of macroecology: insights from Azorean arthropods and the Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology.Ecography, 5, e06141. DOI:10.1111/ecog.06141 (IF2020 5,992; Q1 Ecology)
Human activity and land management practices, in particular land use change, have resulted in the global loss of biodiversity. These types of disturbance affect the shape of macroecological patterns, and therefore analyzing these patterns can provide insights into how ecosystems are affected by land use change. We here use arthropod census data from 96 sites at Terceira Island in the Azores archipelago across four different land uses of increasing management intensity: native forest, exotic forest, semi-natural pasture and intensive pasture, to examine the effects of land use type on three macroecological patterns: the species abundance distribution, the metabolic rate distribution of individuals and the species–area relationship. The maximum entropy theory of ecology (METE) has successfully predicted these patterns across habitats and taxa in undisturbed ecosystems, and thus provides a null expectation for their shapes. Across these patterns, we find that the forest habitats are the best fit by METE predictions, while the semi-natural pasture is consistently the worst fit, and the intensive pasture is intermediately well fit. We show that the direction of failure of the METE predictions at the pasture sites is likely due to the hyper-dominance of introduced spider species present there. We hypothesize that the particularly poor fit for the semi-natural pasture is due to the mix of arthropod communities out of equilibrium, leading to greater heterogeneity in composition and complex dynamics that violate METE's assumption of static state variables. The comparative better fit for the intensive pasture plausibly results from more homogeneous arthropod communities that are well adapted to intensive management, and thus whose state variables are less in flux. Analyzing deviations from theoretical predictions across land use type provides useful information about how land use and disturbance affect ecosystems, and such comparisons could be useful across other habitats and taxa.