The recurrent patterns in the commonness and rarity of species in ecological communities—the relative species abundance—have puzzled ecologists for more than half a century1,2. Here we show that the framework of the current neutral theory in ecology3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 can easily be generalized to incorporate symmetric density dependence11,12,13,14. We can calculate precisely the strength of the rare-species advantage that is needed to explain a given RSA distribution. Previously, we demonstrated that a mechanism of dispersal limitation also fits RSA data well3,4. Here we compare fits of the dispersal and density-dependence mechanisms for empirical RSA data on tree species in six New and Old World tropical forests and show that both mechanisms offer sufficient and independent explanations. We suggest that RSA data cannot by themselves be used to discriminate among these explanations of RSA patterns15—empirical studies will be required to determine whether RSA patterns are due to one or the other mechanism, or to some combination of both.
Your institute does not have access to this article
Open Access articles citing this article.
Oecologia Open Access 05 May 2021
Scientific Reports Open Access 24 April 2020
Scientific Reports Open Access 01 December 2017
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Fisher, R. A., Corbet, A. S. & Williams, C. B. The relation between the number of species and the number of individuals in a random sample of an animal population. J. Anim. Ecol. 12, 42–58 (1943)
Preston, F. W. The commonness and rarity of species. Ecology 29, 254–283 (1948)
Volkov, I., Banavar, J. R., Hubbell, S. P. & Maritan, A. Neutral theory and relative species abundance in ecology. Nature 424, 1035–1037 (2003)
Hubbell, S. P. The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography (Princeton Univ. New Jersey, 2001)
Bell, G. The distribution of abundance in neutral communities. Am. Nat. 155, 606–617 (2000)
McKane, A., Alonso, D. & Solé, R. V. Mean-field stochastic theory for species-rich assembled communities. Phys. Rev. E 62, 8466–8484 (2000)
Bell, G. Neutral macroecology. Science 293, 2413–2418 (2001)
Vallade, M. & Houchmandzadeh, B. Analytical solution of a neutral model of biodiversity. Phys. Rev. E 68, 061902 (2003)
Houchmandzadeh, B. & Vallade, M. Clustering in neutral ecology. Phys. Rev. E 68, 061912 (2003)
Alonso, D. & McKane, A. J. Sampling Hubbell's neutral theory of biodiversity. Ecol. Lett. 7, 911–914 (2004)
Janzen, D. H. Herbivores and the number of tree species in tropical forest. Am. Nat. 104, 501–528 (1970)
Connell, J. H. in Dynamics of Populations (eds Den Boer, P. J. & Gradwell, G. R.) 298–312 (Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 1971)
Chesson, P. L. & Warner, R. R. Environmental variability promotes coexistence in lottery competitive systems. Am. Nat. 117, 923–943 (1981)
Chesson, P. A need for niches? Trends Ecol. Evol. 6, 26–28 (1991)
Etienne, R. S. & Olff, H. A novel genealogical approach to neutral biodiversity theory. Ecol. Lett. 7, 170–175 (2004)
Morley, R. J. Origin and Evolution of Tropical Rainforests Ch. 5 (Wiley, New York, 2000)
Augspurger, C. K. Seedling survival of tropical tree species: interactions of dispersal distance, light gaps, and pathogens. Ecology 65, 1705–1712 (1984)
Hubbell, S. P., Condit, R. & Foster, R. B. Presence and absence of density dependence in a neotropical tree community. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 330, 269–281 (1990)
Gilbert, G. S., Hubbell, S. P. & Foster, R. B. Density and distance-to-adult effects of a canker disease of trees in a moist tropical forest. Oecologia 98, 100–108 (1994)
Condit, R., Hubbell, S. P. & Foster, R. B. Density dependence in two understory tree species in a neotropical forest. Ecology 75, 671–680 (1994)
Harms, K. E., Wright, S. L., Calderón, O., Hernández, A. & Herre, E. A. Pervasive density-dependent recruitment enhances seedling diversity in a tropical forest. Nature 404, 493–495 (2000)
Wright, S. J. Plant diversity in tropical forests: a review of mechanisms of species coexistence. Oecologia 130, 1–14 (2002)
Etienne, R. S. A new sampling formula for neutral biodiversity. Ecol. Lett. 8, 253–260 (2005)
Hilborn, R. & Mangel, M. The Ecological Detective: Confronting Models with Data Ch. 7 (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997)
We are indebted to D. Alonso and P. Chesson for advice. We gratefully acknowledge the work of the principal investigators and their field assistants for collecting the field data on the large plots of tropical forest. Specifically, we thank D. Thomas, G. Chuyong and D. Kenfack for the data from Korup National Park, Cameroon; R. Valencia, R. Foster and R. Condit for the data from Yasuni National Park, Ecuador; S. Davies, S. Tan, J. LaFrankie and P. Ashton for the data from Lambir Hills National Park, Sarawak; M. N. Supardi, P. Ashton and J. LaFrankie for the data from Pasoh Forest Reserve, peninsular Malaysia; and S.P.H.'s collaborators on the Barro Colorado Island plot, R. Foster and R. Condit. We also thank E. Losos for directing and coordinating the global programmes of the Center for Tropical Forest Science, which manages the plots, S. Loo for data management, and I. Rubinoff. This work was supported by NASA, by the NSF and the NSERC (Canada). The fieldwork has also received long-term support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Earthwatch, Frank Levinson and the Celera Foundation, and other private foundations and individual donors.
Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Volkov, I., Banavar, J., He, F. et al. Density dependence explains tree species abundance and diversity in tropical forests. Nature 438, 658–661 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04030
Nature Human Behaviour (2022)
Nature Human Behaviour (2020)
Scientific Reports (2020)
Community phylogenetic structure of grasslands and its relationship with environmental factors on the Mongolian Plateau
Journal of Arid Land (2019)