Letter | Published:

Coral reef diversity refutes the neutral theory of biodiversity

Nature volume 440, pages 8082 (02 March 2006) | Download Citation

Subjects

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 05 October 2006

Abstract

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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    , , & Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 429, 827–833 (2004)

  2. 2.

    et al. Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301, 929–933 (2003)

  3. 3.

    The distribution of abundance in neutral communities. Am. Nat. 155, 606–617 (2000)

  4. 4.

    The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 2001)

  5. 5.

    , , & Neutral theory and relative species abundance in ecology. Nature 424, 1035–1037 (2003)

  6. 6.

    & Stability of forest biodiversity. Nature 423, 635–638 (2003)

  7. 7.

    & Neutrality, niches, and dispersal in a temperate forest understory. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 7651–7656 (2004)

  8. 8.

    et al. Dominance and distribution of tree species in upper Amazonian terra firme forests. Ecology 82, 2101–2117 (2001)

  9. 9.

    , & Tropical tree communities: A test of the nonequilibrium hypothesis. Ecology 77, 561–567 (1996)

  10. 10.

    & Short-term instabilities and long-term community dynamics. Trends Ecol. Evol. 4, 293–298 (1989)

  11. 11.

    & Population dynamic models generating the lognormal species abundance distribution. Math. Biosci. 132, 169–183 (1996)

  12. 12.

    Ecology: Neutrality versus the niche. Nature 417, 480–481 (2002)

  13. 13.

    A test of the unified neutral theory of biodiversity. Nature 422, 881–885 (2003)

  14. 14.

    , , & Community structure of corals and reef fishes at multiple scales. Science 309, 1363–1365 (2005)

  15. 15.

    Strong and weak tests of macroecological theory. Oikos 102, 679–685 (2003)

  16. 16.

    Neutral models fail to reproduce observed species-area and species-time relationships in Kansas grasslands. Ecology 85, 1265–1272 (2004)

  17. 17.

    & Neutral and non-neutral macroecology. Basic Appl. Ecol. 5, 413–422 (2004)

  18. 18.

    , , & The stability of forest biodiversity. Nature 427, 696 (2004)

  19. 19.

    et al. A long term study of competition and diversity of corals. Ecol. Monogr. 74, 179–210 (2004)

  20. 20.

    , & Empirical evaluation of neutral theory. Ecology (in the press)

  21. 21.

    A comment on Hubbell's zero-sum ecological drift model. Oikos 100, 185–192 (2003)

  22. 22.

    & A spatially explicit neutral model of beta-diversity in tropical forests. Theor. Popul. Biol. 62, 153–168 (2002)

  23. 23.

    Neutral theory and community ecology. Ecol. Lett. 7, 241–253 (2004)

  24. 24.

    A unified theory of biogeography and relative species abundance and its application to tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Coral Reefs 16, s9–s21 (1997)

  25. 25.

    & The lognormal distribution is not an appropriate null hypothesis for the species-abundance distribution. J. Anim. Ecol. 74, 409–422 (2005)

  26. 26.

    Field parameterization and experimental test of the neutral theory of biodiversity. Nature 433, 309–312 (2005)

  27. 27.

    Limited membership in Pleistocene reef coral assemblages from the Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea: Constancy during global change. Palaeobiology 22, 152–176 (1996)

  28. 28.

    , & Coral communities are regionally enriched along an oceanic biodiversity gradient. Nature 429, 867–870 (2004)

  29. 29.

    , , & Environmental and geometric constraints on Indo-Pacific coral reef biodiversity. Ecol. Lett. 8, 643–651 (2005)

  30. 30.

    & Numerical Ecology (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1998)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank M. Barbosa, H. Cornell, R. Karlson, staff, students and volunteers of the Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, and the High Performance Computing staff, at James Cook University for assistance with various stages of this project. This work was supported by James Cook University, the Australian Research Council, and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and

    • Maria Dornelas
    • , Sean R. Connolly
    •  & Terence P. Hughes
  2. School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

    • Maria Dornelas
    •  & Sean R. Connolly

Authors

  1. Search for Maria Dornelas in:

  2. Search for Sean R. Connolly in:

  3. Search for Terence P. Hughes in:

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maria Dornelas.

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 1

    This Table shows the coral abundance distributions. Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 have been added post-publication of the original paper. See Erratum to original paper (doi:10.1038/nature05187).

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 2

    This Table shows the similarity matrix. Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 have been added post-publication of the original paper. See Erratum to original paper (doi:10.1038/nature05187).

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figure 1

    This figure shows a comparison of the fit of the neutral model and the poisson lognormal to coral community species abundance distributions.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Figure 2

    These two figures show the frequency distribution of Bray-Curtis similarities for neutral model simulations: for different diversities (a) and different immigration rates (b).

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Figure 3

    These three figures show the analysis of stabilization in similarity and diversity under neutral dynamics: mean (a) and standard deviation (b) of Bray-Curtis similarity, and % change in species richness (c) through time.

Word documents

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Methods

    This file contains additional information regarding the comparison between the poisson lognormal and the neutral model, and regarding similarity patterns under the neutral model.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04534

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.