We present new theoretical and empirical results on the probability distributions of species persistence times in natural ecosystems. Persistence times, defined as the timespans occurring between species' colonization and local extinction in a given geographic region, are empirically estimated from local observations of species' presence/absence. A connected sampling problem is presented, generalized and solved analytically. Species persistence is shown to provide a direct connection with key spatial macroecological patterns like species-area and endemics-area relationships. Our empirical analysis pertains to two different ecosystems and taxa: a herbaceous plant community and a estuarine fish database. Despite the substantial differences in ecological interactions and spatial scales, we confirm earlier evidence on the general properties of the scaling of persistence times, including the predicted effects of the structure of the spatial interaction network. The framework tested here allows to investigate directly nature and extent of spatial effects in the context of ecosystem dynamics. The notable coherence between spatial and temporal macroecological patterns, theoretically derived and empirically verified, is suggested to underlie general features of the dynamic evolution of ecosystems. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
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