Dispersal, edaphic fidelity and speciation in species-rich Western Australian shrublands: evaluating a neutral model of biodiversity

G.L.W. Perry, N.J. Enright, B.B. Lamont, R.S. Etienne, Ben Miller

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    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Over evolutionary time, the number of species in a community reflects the balance between the rate of speciation and the rate of extinction. Over shorter time-scales local species richness is also affected by how often species move into and out of the local community. These processes are at the heart of Hubbell's ‘unified neutral theory of biodiversity’ (Hubbell 2001). Hubbell's spatially implicit, dispersal-limited neutral model is the most widely used of the many implementations of neutral theory and it provides an estimate of the rate of speciation in a metacommunity (if metacommunity size is known) and the rate at which species migrate into the local community from the wider metacommunity. Recently, this neutral model has been used to compare rates of speciation and migration in the species-rich fynbos of South Africa and in neotropical forests. Here we use new analytical methods for estimating the neutral model's parameters to infer speciation and dispersal rates for three sites in species-rich sclerophyll shrublands (equivalent to fynbos) in Western Australia (WA). Our estimates suggest that WA shrublands are intermediate between fynbos and tropical rainforest in terms of speciation and dispersal. Although a weak test, the model predicts species abundance distributions and species accumulation curves similar to those observed at the three sites. The neutral model's predictions also remain plausible when confronted with independent data describing: (1) known edaphic relationships between sites, (2) estimates of metacommunity species richness and (3) rates of speciation among resprouters and nonsprouters. Two of the site pairs, however, show species turnovers significantly different from those predicted by the spatially implicit form of the neutral model that we use. This suggests that non-neutral processes, in this case probably edaphic specialisation, are important in the WA shrubland metacommunity. The neutral model predicts similar rates of speciation in resprouter and sprouter taxa, a finding supported by recent molecular phylogenies. Finally, when converted into temporally scaled speciation rates and species longevities, the estimates produced by the neutral model seem implausible. The apparent departure from neutrality in the turnover of species between some sites and the implausible temporal dynamics may be due to the particular model chosen and does not reduce the significance of our other results, which confirm that local dispersal limitation, coupled with broader scale edaphic fidelity, combine to structure this biodiverse metacommunity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1349-1362
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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