Disturbance macroecology: a comparative study of community structure metrics in a high-severity disturbance regime

Erica A. Newman, Mark Q. Wilber, Karen E. Kopper, Max A. Moritz, Donald A. Falk, Don McKenzie, John Harte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Macroecological studies have established widespread patterns of species diversity and abundance in ecosystems but have generally restricted their scope to relatively steady-state systems. As a result, how macroecological metrics are expected to scale in ecosystems that experience natural disturbance regimes is unknown. We examine macroecological patterns in a fire-dependent forest of Bishop pine (Pinus muricata). We target two different-aged stands in a stand-replacing fire regime: a mature stand with a diverse understory and with no history of major disturbance for at least 40 yr, and one disturbed by a stand-replacing fire 17 yr prior to measurement. We compare properties of these stands with macroecological predictions from the Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology (METE), an information entropy-based theory that has proven highly successful in predicting macroecological metrics in multiple ecosystems and taxa. Ecological patterns in the mature stand more closely match METE predictions than do data from the more recently disturbed, mid-seral stage stand. This suggests METE's predictions are more robust in late-successional, slowly changing, or steady-state systems than those in rapid flux with respect to species composition, abundances, and organisms’ sizes. Our findings highlight the need for a macroecological theory that incorporates natural disturbance, perturbations, and ecological dynamics into its predictive capabilities, because most natural systems are not in a steady state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03022
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Bishop pine (Pinus muricata)
  • California Floristic Province
  • Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology (METE)
  • closed-cone pine forest
  • macroecology
  • natural disturbance
  • species abundance distribution
  • species–area relationship
  • wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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