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Ecological dynamics of colliding populations at habitat ecotones Miller, Tom


Globally, habitat boundaries are shifting directionally at a pace that will likely increase under climate change. Predicting the trajectories of ecotones – areas of habitat interface – requires basic understanding of the mechanisms by which they arise and their responsiveness to global change drivers. Ecological theory for spreading populations, which emphasises the coupled roles of density-dependent demography and dispersal, provides a lens for understanding of ecotone dynamics but has been under-used for this purpose. Building upon theory for single-species invasion, I will develop a model of “collision” between invasion waves of two foundation species and use the model to study ecotone formation and change. I will connect the model to empirical data from ecotones defined by creosote bush and black grama grass, two foundation species of Chihuahuan desert habitats. Expansion of shrublands into grasslands is a global phenomenon that can reduce biodiversity and ecosystem services, but its underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. I suggest that IDEs provides a powerful framework for understanding and predicting the dynamics of habitat boundaries based on the combined influences of demography, dispersal, and competition.

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