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Keywords:

  • ecological drift;
  • holey adaptive landscapes;
  • neutral theory of biodiversity;
  • speciation;
  • species-abundance distribution

Abstract

The neutral theory of biodiversity purports that patterns in the distribution and abundance of species do not depend on adaptive differences between species (i.e. niche differentiation) but solely on random fluctuations in population size (“ecological drift”), along with dispersal and speciation. In this framework, the ultimate driver of biodiversity is speciation. However, the original neutral theory made strongly simplifying assumptions about the mechanisms of speciation, which has led to some clearly unrealistic predictions. In response, several recent studies have combined neutral community models with more elaborate speciation models. These efforts have alleviated some of the problems of the earlier approaches, while confirming the general ability of neutral theory to predict empirical patterns of biodiversity. However, the models also show that the mode of speciation can have a strong impact on relative species abundances. Future work should compare these results to diversity patterns arising from non-neutral modes of speciation, such as adaptive radiations.