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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 9;6(3):e17342. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017342.

Universal ecological patterns in college basketball communities.

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  • 1School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.


The rank abundance of common and rare species within ecological communities is remarkably consistent from the tropics to the tundra. This invariant patterning provides one of ecology's most enduring and unified tenets: most species rare and a few very common. Increasingly, attention is focused upon elucidating biological mechanisms that explain these species abundance distributions (SADs), but these evaluations remain controversial. We show that college basketball wins generate SADs just like those observed in ecological communities. Whereas college basketball wins are structured by competitive interactions, the result produces a SAD pattern indistinguishable from random wins. We also show that species abundance data for tropical trees exhibits a significant-digit pattern consistent with data derived from complex structuring forces. These results cast doubt upon the ability of SAD analysis to resolve ecological mechanism, and their patterning may reflect statistical artifact as much as biological processes.

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