Moving beyond abundance distributions: neutral theory and spatial patterns in a tropical forest

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Assessing the relative importance of different processes that determine the spatial distribution of species and the dynamics in highly diverse plant communities remains a challenging question in ecology. Previous modelling approaches often focused on single aggregated forest diversity patterns that convey limited information on the underlying dynamic processes. Here, we use recent advances in inference for stochastic simulation models to evaluate the ability of a spatially explicit and spatially continuous neutral model to quantitatively predict six spatial and non-spatial patterns observed at the 50 ha tropical forest plot on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. The patterns capture different aspects of forest dynamics and biodiversity structure, such as annual mortality rate, species richness, species abundance distribution, beta-diversity and the species-area relationship (SAR). The model correctly predicted each pattern independently and up to five patterns simultaneously. However, the model was unable to match the SAR and beta-diversity simultaneously. Our study moves previous theory towards a dynamic spatial theory of biodiversity and demonstrates the value of spatial data to identify ecological processes. This opens up new avenues to evaluate the consequences of additional process for community assembly and dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2014.1657
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B
Issue number1802
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 07.03.2015
Externally publishedYes