A hierarchical theory of macroecology


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The relationships of local population density (N) with body size (M) and distribution (D) have been extensively studied because they reveal how ecological and historical factors structure species communities; however, a unifying model explaining their joint behaviour, has not been developed. Here, I propose a theory that explores these relationships hierarchically and predicts that: (1) at a metacommunity level, niche breadth, population density and regional distribution are all related and size-dependent and (2) at a community level, the exponents b and d of the relationships N ~ M  b and N ~ D  d are functions (f) of the environment and, consequently, species richness (S), allowing the following reformulation of the power laws: N ~ M  f(S) and N ~ D f(S) . Using this framework and continental data on stream environment, diatoms, invertebrates and fish, I address the following fundamental, but unresolved ecological questions: how do species partition their resources across environments, is energetic equivalence among them possible, are generalists more common than specialists, why are locally abundant species also regionally prevalent, and, do microbes have different biogeography than macroorganisms? The discovery that community scaling behaviour is environmentally constrained calls for better integration of macroecology and environmental science.