Publication Details

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Title (Primary) Do abundance distributions and species aggregation correctly predict macroecological biodiversity patterns in tropical forests?
Author May, F.; Wiegand, T.; Lehmann, S.; Huth, A.;
Journal Global Ecology and Biogeography
Year 2016
Department OESA; iDiv;
Volume 25
Issue 5
Language englisch;
POF III (all) T53;
Keywords Dispersal limitation; distance decay of similarity; pattern-oriented modelling; point pattern analysis; spatially explicit simulation model; species–area relationship; unified theory
UFZ wide themes RU5;


It has been recently suggested that different ‘unified theories of biodiversity and biogeography’ can be characterized by three common ‘minimal sufficient rules’: (1) species abundance distributions follow a hollow curve, (2) species show intraspecific aggregation, and (3) species are independently placed with respect to other species. Here, we translate these qualitative rules into a quantitative framework and assess if these minimal rules are indeed sufficient to predict multiple macroecological biodiversity patterns simultaneously.


Tropical forest plots in Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama, and in Sinharaja, Sri Lanka.


We assess the predictive power of the three rules using dynamic and spatial simulation models in combination with census data from the two forest plots. We use two different versions of the model: (1) a neutral model and (2) an extended model that allowed for species differences in dispersal distances. In a first step we derive model parameterizations that correctly represent the three minimal rules (i.e. the model quantitatively matches the observed species abundance distribution and the distribution of intraspecific aggregation). In a second step we applied the parameterized models to predict four additional spatial biodiversity patterns.


Species-specific dispersal was needed to quantitatively fulfil the three minimal rules. The model with species-specific dispersal correctly predicted the species–area relationship, but failed to predict the distance decay, the relationship between species abundances and aggregations, and the distribution of a spatial co-occurrence index of all abundant species pairs. These results were consistent over the two forest plots.

Main conclusions

The three ‘minimal sufficient’ rules only provide an incomplete approximation of the stochastic spatial geometry of biodiversity in tropical forests. The assumption of independent interspecific placements is most likely violated in many forests due to shared or distinct habitat preferences. Furthermore, our results highlight missing knowledge about the relationship between species abundances and their aggregation.

ID 17127
Persistent UFZ Identifier
May, F., Wiegand, T., Lehmann, S., Huth, A. (2016):
Do abundance distributions and species aggregation correctly predict macroecological biodiversity patterns in tropical forests?
Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 25 (5), 575 - 585