The mid-domain effect (MDE) aims to explain spatial patterns in species richness invoking only stochasticity and geometrical constraints. In this paper, we used simulations to show that its main qualitative prediction, a hump-shaped pattern in species richness, converges to the expectation of a spatially bounded neutral model when communities are linked by short-distance migration. As these two models can be linked under specific situations, neutral theory may provide a mechanistic population level basis for MDE. This link also allows establishing in which situations MDE patterns are more likely to be found. Also, in this situation, MDE models could be used as a first approximation to understand the role of both stochastic (ecological drift and migration) and deterministic (adaptation to environmental conditions) processes driving the spatial structure of species richness.