Metacommunity dynamics (i.e., that dispersal limitation among locales creates spatially-contingent community processes) have been in vogue over the past half-decade. Many of the advances in this field have come from theoretical models, computer simulations, artificial laboratory assemblages of micro-organisms (with yours truly being a major offender) and field experiments using small-bodied, short-lived organisms. An oft-repeated criticism has been that the necessary conditions for metacommunity processes are what are manipulated in simulations or lab tests and that simple extinction-colonization dynamics are rarely observed for larger, longer-lived organisms. In a recent paper by Kevin Burns and Christopher Neufeld, high levels of extinction and colonization are shown in patchy communities of woody plants. They sampled 18 islands off the west coast of Canada in 1997 then again in 2007 and found that substantial numbers of local extinctions were observed. These results reveal that what we often think of as relatively stable communities (woody plant species) are actually quite dynamic, creating the conditions were metacommunity processes are an important mechanisms driving patterns of diversity. They further show that communities with greater exposure to ocean storms had higher extinction risk and species with hardier leaves were less prone to local extinctions.
Kevin C. Burns, Christopher J. Neufeld (2009). Plant extinction dynamics in an insular metacommunity Oikos, 118 (2), 191-198 DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2008.16816.x