Our understanding of the relative influence of different ecological drivers on the number of species in a place remains limited. Assessing the relative influence of local ecological interactions versus regional species pools on local species richness should help bridge this conceptual gap. Plots of local species richness versus regional species pools have been used to address this question, yet after an active quarter-century of research on the relative influence of local interactions versus regional species pools, consensus remains elusive. We propose a conceptual framework that incorporates spatial scale and ecological interaction strength to reconcile current disparities. We then test this framework using a survey of marine rocky intertidal algal and invertebrate communities from the northeast Pacific. We reach two main conclusions. First, these data show that the power of regional species pools to predict local richness disintegrates at small spatial scales coincident with the scale of biological interactions, when studying ecologically interactive groups of species, and in generally more abiotically stressful habitats (e.g., the high intertidal). Second, conclusions of past studies asserting that the regional species pool is the primary driver of local species richness may be artifacts of large spatial scales or ecologically noninteractive groups of species.
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