Nature 440, 80-82 (2 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04534; Received 30 August 2005; Accepted 19 December 2005

There is an Erratum (5 October 2006) associated with this document.

Coral reef diversity refutes the neutral theory of biodiversity

Maria Dornelas1,2, Sean R. Connolly1,2 and Terence P. Hughes1

The global decline of coral reefs1, 2 highlights the need to understand the mechanisms that regulate community structure and sustain biodiversity in these systems. The neutral theory, which assumes that individuals are demographically identical regardless of species, seeks to explain ubiquitous features of community structure and biodiversity patterns3, 4, 5. Here we present a test of neutral-theory predictions with the use of an extensive species-level data set of Indo-Pacific coral communities. We show that coral assemblages differ markedly from neutral-model predictions for patterns of community similarity and the relative abundance of species. Within local communities, neutral models do not fit relative abundance distributions as well as the classical log-normal distribution. Relative abundances of species across local communities also differ markedly from neutral-theory predictions: coral communities exhibit community similarity values that are far more variable, and lower on average, than the neutral theory can produce. Empirical community similarities deviate from the neutral model in a direction opposite to that predicted in previous critiques of the neutral theory6, 7, 8, 9. Instead, our results support spatio-temporal environmental stochasticity as a major driver of diversity patterns on coral reefs10, 11.

  1. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and
  2. School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

Correspondence to: Maria Dornelas1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.D. (Email: maria.dornelas@jcu.edu.au).


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