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Nature. 2006 May 4;441(7089):E1; discussion E1-2.

Theoretical biology: comparing models of species abundance.

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Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique, UMR5174 CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, 31062 Toulouse,


Ecologists are struggling to explain how so many tropical tree species can coexist in tropical forests, and several empirical studies have demonstrated that negative density dependence is an important mechanism of tree-species coexistence. Volkov et al. compare a model incorporating negative density dependence with a dispersal-limited neutral model and claim that each predicts six empirical species-abundance distributions of tropical-tree communities equally well. However, we show here that their main conclusion is premature: when the two models are compared in an improved analysis, we find that the dispersal-limited model outcompetes the density-dependent model in all six cases. Hence, although density dependence is certainly an important diversity-maintaining mechanism, our improved approach indicates that the dispersal-limited model provides a more parsimonious explanation of empirical species-abundance distributions.

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