Random sampling, abundance–extinction dynamics and niche-filtering immigration constraints explain the generation of species richness gradients


  • Jofre Carnicer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Integrative Ecology Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Sevilla, Spain,
    2. CEM Biodiver, Associació per a l’Estudi i Conservació de la Biodiversitat, Sabadell, Spain,
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  • Lluís Brotons,

    1. Àrea de Biodiversitat, CTFC, Centre Tecnològic Forestal de Catalunya, Solsona, Spain,
    2. Institut Català d’Ornitologia, Museu de Zoologia, Barcelona, Spain,
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  • Daniel Sol,

    1. CREAF, Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, and
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  • Miquel De Cáceres

    1. Departament de Biologia Vegetal, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
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*Correspondence: Jofre Carnicer, Integrative Ecology Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Sevilla, Spain. E-mail: jofrecarnicer@ebd.csic.es


Aim  The paradigm that species’ patterns of distribution, abundance and coexistence are the result of adaptations of the species to their niches has recently been challenged by evidence that similar patterns may be generated by simple random processes. We argue here that a better understanding of macroecological patterns requires an integration of both ecological and neutral stochastic approaches. We demonstrate the utility of such an integrative approach by testing the sampling hypothesis in a species–energy relationship of forest bird species.

Location  A Mediterranean biome in Catalonia, Spain.

Methods  To test the sampling hypothesis we designed a metacommunity model that reproduces the stochastic sampling from a regional pool to predict local species richness variation. Four conceptually different sampling procedures were evaluated.

Results  We showed that stochastic sampling processes predicted a substantial part (over 40%) of the observed variation in species richness, but left considerable variation unexplained. This remaining variation in species richness may be better understood as the result of alternative ecological processes. First, the sampling model explained more variation in species richness when the probability that a species colonises a new locality was assumed to increase with its niche width, suggesting that ecological differences between species matter when it comes to explaining macroecological patterns. Second, extinction risk was significantly lower for species inhabiting high-energy regions, suggesting that abundance–extinction processes play a significant role in shaping species richness patterns.

Main conclusions  We conclude that species–energy relationships may not simply be understood as a result of either ecological or random sampling processes, but more likely as a combination of both.