Researchers have disputed whether a single large habitat reserve will support more species than many small reserves. However, relatively little is known from a theoretical perspective about how reserve size affects competitive communities structured by spatial abiotic gradients. We investigate how reserve size affects theoretical communities whose assembly is governed by dispersal limitation, abiotic niche differentiation, and source-sink dynamics. Simulations were conducted with varying scales of dispersal across landscapes with variable environmental spatial autocorrelation. Landscapes were inhabited by simulated trees with seedling and adult stages. For a fixed total area in reserves, we found that small reserve systems increased the distance between environments dominated by different species, diminishing the effects of source-sink dynamics. As reserve size decreased, environmental limitations to community assembly became stronger, α species richness decreased, and γ richness increased. When dispersal occurred across short distances, a large reserve strategy caused greater stochastic community variation, greater α richness, and lower γ richness than in small reserve systems. We found that reserve size variation trades off between preserving different aspects of natural communities, including α diversity versus γ diversity. Optimal reserve size will depend on the importance of source-sink dynamics and the value placed on different characteristics of natural communities. Anthropogenic changes to the size and separation of remnant habitats can have far-reaching effects on community structure and assembly.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics