• Biodiversity;
  • ecological drift;
  • neutral theory;
  • spatial ecology;
  • species–area relationship;
  • stochastic models


Predicting the variation of biodiversity across the surface of the Earth is a fundamental issue in ecology, and in this article we focus on one of the most widely studied spatial biodiversity patterns: the species–area relationship (SAR). The SAR is a central tool in conservation, being used to predict species loss following global climate change, and is striking in its universality throughout different geographical regions and across the tree of life. In this article we draw upon the methods of quantum field theory and the foundation of neutral community ecology to derive the first spatially explicit neutral prediction for the SAR. We find that the SAR has three phases, with a power law increase at intermediate scales, consistent with decades of documented empirical patterns. Our model also provides a building block for incorporating non-neutral biological variation, with the potential to bridge the gap between neutral and niche-based approaches to community assembly.

Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 87–95