The ecological equivalent of Ellis Island: from ancestry to biodiversity

February 24, 2004

For many ecologists, the start of the 21st century was bewildering due to a book by Steve Hubbell. Hubbell claimed that many patterns in nature could be explained by a simple theory stating that all species are equivalent in competition for resources.

In a letter to Ecology Letters, Rampal Etienne and Han Olff from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands will present a novel framework for this theory in which they relate the current diversity of local ecological communities to the diversity of the ancestors that once immigrated into that local community. It is like relating the current ethnic diversity of the USA to the nationalities of the ancestors that immigrated on Ellis Island.

Because this new perspective allows for an elegant mathematical framework, it is now possible to check with more accuracy whether the neutral theory indeed explains observations better than traditional theory involving niches. The authors show with an example of a neotropical forest that neutral theory cannot be decisively rejected. Moreover, their approach shines new lights on the relationship between biodiversity and genetic diversity.
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Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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