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This study addresses the impact of spatial scale on explaining variance in benthic communities. In particular, the analysis estimated the fraction of community variation that occurred at a spatial scale smaller than the sampling interval (i.e., the geographic distance between samples). This estimate is important because it sets a limit on the amount of community variation that can be explained based on the spatial configuration of a study area and sampling design. Six benthic data sets were examined that consisted of faunal abundances, common environmental variables (water depth, grain size, and surficial percent cover), and sonar backscatter treated as a habitat proxy (categorical acoustic provinces). Redundancy analysis was coupled with spatial variograms generated by multiscale ordination to quantify the explained and residual variance at different spatial scales and within and between acoustic provinces. The amount of community variation below the sampling interval of the surveys (< 100 m) was estimated to be 36–59% of the total. Once adjusted for this small-scale variation, > 71% of the remaining variance was explained by the environmental and province variables. Furthermore, these variables effectively explained the spatial structure present in the infaunal community. Overall, no scale problems remained to compromise inferences, and unexplained infaunal community variation had no apparent spatial structure within the observational scale of the surveys (> 100 m), although small-scale gradients (< 100 m) below the observational scale may be present.


Published in PLOS One by the Public Library of Science. Available via doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189313.

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