Ecology Letters (2012)
Although abiotic factors, together with dispersal and biotic interactions, are often suggested to explain the distribution of species and their abundances, species distribution models usually focus on abiotic factors only. We propose an integrative framework linking ecological theory, empirical data and statistical models to understand the distribution of species and their abundances together with the underlying community assembly dynamics. We illustrate our approach with 21 plant species in the French Alps. We show that a spatially nested modelling framework significantly improves the model’s performance and that the spatial variations of species presence–absence and abundances are predominantly explained by different factors. We also show that incorporating abiotic, dispersal and biotic factors into the same model bring new insights to our understanding of community assembly. This approach, at the crossroads between community ecology and biogeography, is a promising avenue for a better understanding of species co-existence and biodiversity distribution.