Land use change through the lens of macroecology: insights from Azorean arthropods and the Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology

Micah Brush, Tom Matthews, Paulo Borges, John Harte

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Human activity and land management practices, in particular land use change, have resulted in the global loss of biodiversity. These types of disturbance affect the shape of macroecological patterns, and therefore analyzing these patterns can provide insights into how ecosystems are affected by land use change. We here use arthropod census data from 96 sites at Terceira Island in the Azores archipelago across four different land uses of increasing management intensity: native forest, exotic forest, semi-natural pasture and intensive pasture, to examine the effects of land use type on three macroecological patterns: the species abundance distribution, the metabolic rate distribution of individuals and the species–area relationship. The maximum entropy theory of ecology (METE) has successfully predicted these patterns across habitats and taxa in undisturbed ecosystems, and thus provides a null expectation for their shapes. Across these patterns, we find that the forest habitats are the best fit by METE predictions, while the semi-natural pasture is consistently the worst fit, and the intensive pasture is intermediately well fit. We show that the direction of failure of the METE predictions at the pasture sites is likely due to the hyper-dominance of introduced spider species present there. We hypothesize that the particularly poor fit for the semi-natural pasture is due to the mix of arthropod communities out of equilibrium, leading to greater heterogeneity in composition and complex dynamics that violate METE's assumption of static state variables. The comparative better fit for the intensive pasture plausibly results from more homogeneous arthropod communities that are well adapted to intensive management, and thus whose state variables are less in flux. Analyzing deviations from theoretical predictions across land use type provides useful information about how land use and disturbance affect ecosystems, and such comparisons could be useful across other habitats and taxa.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere06141
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
– Funding for this project was provided in part by grant DEB 1751380 from the US National Science Foundation, as well as by grants to PAVB FCT‐UIDP/00329/2020‐2024 (Thematic Line 1 – integrated ecological assessment of environmental change on biodiversity) and MACRISK – PTDC/BIA‐CBI/0625/2021, through the FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia. MB acknowledges the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) (PGSD2‐517114‐2018). Data acquisition was provided by the projects: ‘Consequences of land use change on Azorean fauna and flora – the 2010 Target' (Ref: Direcção Regional de Ciência e Tecnologia M.2.1.2/I/003/2008) and ‘Direcção Regional dos Recursos Florestais' (‘Secretaria Regional da Agricultura e Pescas') through the Project ‘Reservas Florestais dos Açores: Cartografia e Inventariação dos Artrópodes Endémicos dos Açores' (PROJ. 17.01 – 080203).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Ecography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos.


  • arthropods
  • Azores
  • disturbance
  • land use
  • macroecology
  • maximum entropy theory of ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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