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Theoretical biology

Comparing models of species abundance

Naturevolume 441pageE1 (2006) | Download Citation



Arising from: I. Volkov, J. R. Banavar, F. He, S. P. Hubbell & A. Maritan Nature 438, 658–661 (2005); Volkov et al. reply.

Ecologists are struggling to explain how so many tropical tree species can coexist in tropical forests, and several empirical studies have demonstrated that negative density dependence is an important mechanism of tree-species coexistence1,2. Volkov et al.3 compare a model incorporating negative density dependence with a dispersal-limited neutral model4 and claim that each predicts six empirical species-abundance distributions of tropical-tree communities equally well. However, we show here that their main conclusion is premature: when the two models are compared in an improved analysis, we find that the dispersal-limited model outcompetes the density-dependent model in all six cases. Hence, although density dependence is certainly an important diversity-maintaining mechanism, our improved approach indicates that the dispersal-limited model provides a more parsimonious explanation of empirical species-abundance distributions.

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  1. Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique, UMR5174 CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, 31062, France

    • Jérôme Chave
  2. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 48109-1048, Michigan, USA

    • David Alonso
  3. Community and Conservation Ecology Group, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, Haren, 9750 AA, The Netherlands

    • Rampal S. Etienne


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