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SELF-SIMILAR, FRACTAL STRUCTURE OF SPECIES DISTRIBUTION

It is not only history that repeats itself nature does too. For example, the drainage system of the Okavango Delta in Botswana resembles the veins of a leaf. The phenomena that “in one grain of sand you can see the universe” is termed fractal behavior , or self-similarity and its discovery is credited largely to Benoit Mandelbrot. Using this mathematical method to grasp the spatial distribution of different species holds a kind of fascination for scientists. Even now, there is still hot debate around how and to what extent we can use this method to comprehend the spatial distribution of species and macroecological patterns, such as the spatial autocorrelation and the species-area curves. In Volume 89 issue 10 of the journal Ecology, C·I·B scientists Cang Hui and Melodie A. McGeoch have dusted down the debate and pushed the application of fractal techniques in ecology to a new level. They identified two implicit assumptions in the macroecological studies that are related to the inheritance or inertia of the spatial, scaling properties of the system. By doing so, they suggested that “to appropriately relate individual species distributions to community patterns it is clearly necessary to understand patterns of species co-occurrence and to consider the way in which species occupancy patterns change with scale.”

Find more of this work at the ESA Ecology website: www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/07-1451.1