, Volume 171, Issue 1, pp 217–226 | Cite as

Microfragmentation concept explains non-positive environmental heterogeneity–diversity relationships

  • Lauri Laanisto
  • Riin Tamme
  • Inga Hiiesalu
  • Robert Szava-Kovats
  • Antonio Gazol
  • Meelis Pärtel
Community ecology - Original research


Although recent studies have revealed that the relationship between diversity and environmental heterogeneity is not always positive, as classical niche theory predicts, scientists have had difficulty interpreting these results from an ecological perspective. We propose a new concept—microfragmentation—to explain how small-scale heterogeneity can have neutral or even negative effect on species diversity. We define microfragmentation as a community level process of splitting habitat into a more heterogeneous environment that can have non-positive effects on the diversity through habitat loss and subsequent isolation. We provide support for the microfragmentation concept with results from spatially explicit heterogeneity–diversity model simulations, in which varying sets of species (with different ratios of specialist and generalist species) were modeled at different levels of configurational heterogeneity (meaning that only the habitat structure was changed, not its composition). Our results indicate that environmental heterogeneity can affect community diversity in the same way as fragmentation at the landscape level. Although generalist species might not be seriously affected by microfragmentation, the persistence of specialist species can be seriously disturbed by small-scale patchiness. The microfragmentation concept provides new insight into community level diversity dynamics and can influence conservation and management strategies.


Species diversity Environmental diversity Habitat fragmentation Modeling Community dynamics 



This research was supported by the European Union 7th framework project SCALES, FP7-226852; European Union 6th framework project ECOCHANGE, FP6-036866; European Regional Development Fund, Centre of Excellence FIBIR, ERMOS program (Grant 14, co-funded by Marie Curie Actions), and Estonian Science Foundation (Grant 8323) and CSIC JAE DOC fellowship. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. Author contributions: L.L., R.T. and M.P. designed the study; L.L., M.P., I.H. and A.G. did the analysis; L.L., R.S.-K. and M.P. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and made substantial contributions to the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauri Laanisto
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Riin Tamme
    • 1
  • Inga Hiiesalu
    • 1
  • Robert Szava-Kovats
    • 1
  • Antonio Gazol
    • 1
  • Meelis Pärtel
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of TartuTartuEstonia
  2. 2.Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary BiologyNational Museum of Natural Science, CSICMadridSpain
  3. 3.Laboratorio Internacional en Cambio Global, UC-CSIC, Departemento de Ecologia, Facultad de Ciencias BiologicasPontifical Catholic University of ChileSantiago de ChileChile

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