Get access

Sampling Hubbell's neutral theory of biodiversity


  • David Alonso,

    Corresponding author
    1. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan 830 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor MI 48109-1048, USA
    2. ICREA-Complex Systems Lab, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Dr Aiguader 80, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Alan J. McKane

    1. Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
    Search for more papers by this author



In the context of neutral theories of community ecology, a novel genealogy-based framework has recently furnished an analytic extension of Ewens’ sampling multivariate abundance distribution, which also applies to a random sample from a local community. Here, instead of taking a multivariate approach, we further develop the sampling theory of Hubbell's neutral spatially implicit theory and derive simple abundance distributions for a random sample both from a local community and a metacommunity. Our result is given in terms of the average number of species with a given abundance in any randomly extracted sample. Contrary to what has been widely assumed, a random sample from a metacommunity is not fully described by the Fisher log-series, but by a new distribution. This new sample distribution matches the log-series expectation at high biodiversity values (θ > 1) but clearly departs from it for species-poor metacommunities (θ < 1). Our theoretical framework should be helpful in the better assessment of diversity and testing of the neutral theory by using abundance data.