A strong test of a maximum entropy model of trait-based community assembly



We evaluate the predictive power and generality of Shipley's maximum entropy (maxent) model of community assembly in the context of 96 quadrats over a 120-km2 area having a large (79) species pool and strong gradients. Quadrats were sampled in the herbaceous understory of ponderosa pine forests in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona, USA. The maxent model accurately predicted species relative abundances when observed community-weighted mean trait values were used as model constraints. Although only 53% of the variation in observed relative abundances was associated with a combination of 12 environmental variables, the maxent model based only on the environmental variables provided highly significant predictive ability, accounting for 72% of the variation that was possible given these environmental variables. This predictive ability largely surpassed that of nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) or detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) ordinations. Using cross-validation with 1000 independent runs, the median correlation between observed and predicted relative abundances was 0.560 (the 2.5% and 97.5% quantiles were 0.045 and 0.825). The qualitative predictions of the model were also noteworthy: dominant species were correctly identified in 53% of the quadrats, 83% of rare species were correctly predicted to have a relative abundance of <0.05, and the median predicted relative abundance of species actually absent from a quadrat was 5 × 10−5.