Measures, perceptions and scaling patterns of aggregated species distributions
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Non-random (aggregated) species distributions arise from habitat heterogeneity and nonlinear biotic processes. A comprehensive understanding of the concept of aggregation, as well as its measurement, is pivotal to our understanding of species distributions and macroecological patterns. Here, using an individual-based model, we analyzed opinions on the concept of aggregation from the public and experts (trained ecologists), in addition to those calculated from a variety of aggregation indices. Three forms of scaling patterns (logarithmic, power-law and lognormal) and four groups of scaling trajectories emerged. The experts showed no significant difference from the public, although with a much lower deviation. The public opinion was partially influenced by the abundance of individuals in the spatial map, which was not found in the experts. With the increase of resolution (decrease of grain), aggregation indices showed a general trend from significantly different to significantly similar to the expert opinion. The over-dispersion index (i.e. the clumping parameter k in the negative binomial distribution) performed, at certain scales, as the closest index to the expert opinion. Examining performance of aggregation measures from different groups of scaling patterns was proposed as a practical way of analyzing spatial structures. The categorization of the scaling patterns of aggregation measures, as well as their over- and in-sensitivity towards spatial structures, thus not only provides a potential solution to the modifiable areal unit problem, but also unveils the interrelationship among the concept, measures and perceptions of aggregated species distributions.