The implicit assumption of symmetry and the species abundance distribution

D. Alonso, A. Ostling, R.S. Etienne

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58 Citations (Scopus)


Species abundance distributions (SADs) have played a historical role in the development of community ecology. They summarize information about the number and the relative abundance of the species encountered in a sample from a given community. For years ecologists have developed theory to characterize species abundance patterns, and the study of these patterns has received special attention in recent years. In particular, ecologists have developed statistical sampling theories to predict the SAD expected in a sample taken from a region. Here, we emphasize an important limitation of all current sampling theories: they ignore species identity. We present an alternative formulation of statistical sampling theory that incorporates species asymmetries in sampling and dynamics, and relate, in a general way, the community-level SAD to the distribution of population abundances of the species integrating the community. We illustrate the theory on a stochastic community model that can accommodate species asymmetry. Finally, we discuss the potentially important role of species asymmetries in shaping recently observed multi-humped SADs and in comparisons of the relative success of niche and neutral theories at predicting SADs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-105
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • neutral biodiversity theory
  • community structure
  • stochastic-theory
  • sampling formula
  • models
  • diversity
  • population
  • number
  • impact
  • time

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