Universal scaling of species-abundance distributions across multiple scales

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The scale-dependent species abundance distribution (SAD) is fundamental in ecology, but few spatially explicit models of this pattern have thus far been studied. Here we show spatially explicit neutral model predictions for SADs over a wide range of spatial scales, which appear to match empirical patterns qualitatively. We find that the assumption of a log-series SAD in the metacommunity made by spatially implicit neutral models can be justified with a spatially explicit model in the large area limit. Furthermore, our model predicts that SADs on multiple scales are characterized by a single, compound parameter that represents the ratio of the survey area to the species’ average biogeographic range (which is in turn set by the speciation rate and the dispersal distance). This intriguing prediction is in line with recent empirical evidence for a universal scaling of the species-area curve. Hence we hypothesize that empirical SAD patterns will show a similar universal scaling for many different taxa and across multiple spatial scales.

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