Neutral Theory and Relative Species Abundance in Ecology

Nature. 2003 Aug 28;424(6952):1035-7. doi: 10.1038/nature01883.


The theory of island biogeography asserts that an island or a local community approaches an equilibrium species richness as a result of the interplay between the immigration of species from the much larger metacommunity source area and local extinction of species on the island (local community). Hubbell generalized this neutral theory to explore the expected steady-state distribution of relative species abundance (RSA) in the local community under restricted immigration. Here we present a theoretical framework for the unified neutral theory of biodiversity and an analytical solution for the distribution of the RSA both in the metacommunity (Fisher's log series) and in the local community, where there are fewer rare species. Rare species are more extinction-prone, and once they go locally extinct, they take longer to re-immigrate than do common species. Contrary to recent assertions, we show that the analytical solution provides a better fit, with fewer free parameters, to the RSA distribution of tree species on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, than the lognormal distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Geography
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity
  • Trees