Comparing classical community models: Theoretical consequences for patterns of diversity

Jérôme Chave, Helene C. Muller-Landau, Simon Asher Levin

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420 Scopus citations


Mechanisms proposed to explain the maintenance of species diversity within ecological communities of sessile organisms include niche differentiation mediated by competitive trade-offs, frequency dependence resulting from species-specific pests, recruitment limitation due to local dispersal, and a speciation-extinction dynamic equilibrium mediated by stochasticity (drift). While each of these processes, and more, have been shown to act in particular communities, much remains to be learned about their relative importance in shaping community-level patterns. We used a spatially-explicit, individual-based model to assess the effects of each of these processes on species richness, relative abundance, and spatial patterns such as the species-area curve. Our model communities had an order-of-magnitude more individuals than any previous such study, and we also developed a finite-size scaling analysis to infer the large-scale properties of these systems in order to establish the generality of our conclusions across system sizes. As expected, each mechanism can promote diversity. We found some qualitative differences in community patterns across communities in which different combinations of these mechanisms operate. Species-area curves follow a power law with short-range dispersal and a logarithmic law with global dispersal. Relative-abundance distributions are more even for systems with competitive differences and trade-offs than for those in which all species are competitively equivalent, and they are most even when frequency dependence (even if weak) is present. Overall, however, communities in which different processes operated showed surprisingly similar patterns, which suggests that the form of community-level patterns cannot in general be used to distinguish among mechanisms maintaining diversity there. Nevertheless, parameterization of models such as these from field data on the strengths of the different mechanisms could yield insight into their relative roles in diversity maintenance in any given community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Density dependence
  • Dispersal
  • Ecological community
  • Neutral model
  • Spatial ecology
  • Trade-off model


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