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Understanding how biodiversity unfolds through time under neutral theory

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JournalPhilosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society Of London Series B - Biological Sciences
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Jan 2016
DatePublished (current) - 5 Apr 2016
Issue number1691
Volume371
Number of pages12
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Theoretical predictions for biodiversity patterns are typically derived under the assumption that ecological systems have reached a dynamic equilibrium. Yet, there is increasing evidence that various aspects of ecological systems, including (but not limited to) species richness, are not at equilibrium. Here, we use simulations to analyse how biodiversity patterns unfold through time. In particular,we focus on the relative time required for various biodiversity patterns (macroecological or phylogenetic) to reach equilibrium. We simulate spatially explicit metacommunities according to the Neutral Theory of Biodiversity (NTB) under three modes of speciation, which differ in how evenly a parent species is split between its two daughter species. We find that species richness stabilizes first, followed by species area relationships (SAR) and finally species abundance distributions (SAD). The difference in timing of equilibrium between these different macroecological patterns is the largest when the split of individuals between sibling species at speciation is the most uneven. Phylogenetic patterns of biodiversity take even longer to stabilize (tens to hundreds of times longer than species richness) so that equilibrium predictions from neutral theory for these patterns are unlikely to be relevant. Our results suggest that it may be unwise to assume that biodiversity patterns are at equilibrium and provide a first step in studying how these patterns unfold through time.

    Research areas

  • Dynamic equilibrium, Neutral theory of biodiversity, Phylogenetic pattern, Species abundance distribution, Species area relationship, Temporal predictions

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