Enhanced Moran effect by spatial variation in environmental autocorrelation


Spatial correlations in environmental stochasticity can synchronize populations over wide areas, a phenomenon known as the Moran effect. The Moran effect has been confirmed in field, laboratory and theoretical investigations. Little is known, however, about the Moran effect in a common ecological case, when environmental variation is temporally autocorrelated and this autocorrelation varies spatially. Here we perform chemostat experiments to investigate the temporal response of independent phytoplankton populations to autocorrelated stochastic forcing. In contrast to naive expectation, two populations without direct coupling can be more strongly correlated than their environmental forcing (enhanced Moran effect), if the stochastic variations differ in their autocorrelation. Our experimental findings are in agreement with numerical simulations and analytical calculations. The enhanced Moran effect is robust to changes in population dynamics, noise spectra and different measures of correlation—suggesting that noise-induced synchrony may play a larger role for population dynamics than previously thought.

Nature Communications 6, 5993