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Environmental effects on spatial population dynamics and synchrony – lessons from northern ecosystems

Ivar Herfindal*, Aline Magdalena Lee, Jonatan F. Marquez, Mathilde Le Moullec, Bart Peeters, Brage Bremset Hansen, John-André Henden, Bernt-Erik Sæther

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Environmental variation in time and space generates complex patterns in the spatial structure of temporally covarying populations. Accounting for spatial population structure is important for sustainable management and harvest, but there is a need for a better understanding of the many mechanisms affecting the spatial structure of populations. In the large-scale research project “SUSTAIN”, detailed long-term data from several taxa within the boreal and arctic ecosystems were used to address key research questions about spatial population structure. Here we synthesize the main findings from these studies. Because nearby populations experience similar environmental variation, populations close to each other show more correlated dynamics than those at greater distances. However, several mechanisms can affect the extent of such spatial population synchrony, and we point on some similarities across systems that can explain the observed discrepancy between the spatial structure of the environment and that of population dynamics. We discuss the consequences of these findings for practical management of species in a changing environment and the need for further research on how populations and ecosystems are affected by the spatial structure of the environment.