A long-standing debate in ecology addresses whether community composition is the result of stochastic factors or assembly rules. Non-random, over-dispersed patterns of species co-occurrence have commonly been attributed to competition—a particularly important force in adaptive radiation. We thus examined the macroecology of the recently radiated cichlid rock-fish assemblage in Lake Malawi, Africa at a spectrum of increasingly fine spatial scales (entire lake to depth within rock-reef sites). Along this range of spatial scales, we observed a signal of community structure (decreased co-occurrence of species) at the largest and smallest scales, but not in between. Evidence suggests that the lakewide signature of structure is driven by extreme endemism and micro-allopatric speciation, while patterns of reduced co-occurrence with depth are indicative of species interactions. We identified a ‘core’ set of rock-reef species, found in combination throughout the lake, whose depth profiles exhibited replicated positive and negative correlation. Our results provide insight into how ecological communities may be structured differently at distinct spatial scales, re-emphasize the importance of local species interactions in community assembly, and further elucidate the processes shaping speciation in this model adaptive radiation.
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