5 - Ecological drift in niche-structured communities: neutral pattern does not imply neutral process  pp. 107-138

Ecological drift in niche-structured communities: neutral pattern does not imply neutral process

By Drew W. Purves and Stephen W. Pacala

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The neutral vs. structure debate

We can define a neutral community as one in which all species, and so all individuals, are equivalent, in the sense that they are interchangeable at all times and under all conditions. In contrast, we can define a structured community as one in which species are not equivalent, and species-specific differences affect the population dynamics, and therefore the behaviour, of the community.

This distinction is an important one, because in a neutral community the biodiversity, as measured by species richness and abundance patterns, has nothing to do with the biogeochemical functioning of the community (e.g. carbon fixation and nutrient-cycling). In fact, in a truly neutral community one could eliminate all but one species without affecting the biogeochemical functioning of the community at all.

In contrast, much of the species-specific variation in biological traits observed in reality (see below) has direct relevance for the functioning of the community. For example, the short-term carbon uptake of a forest depends on the growth rates of the individual trees, and the long-term carbon storage depends on adult life-span and wood density, and there is wide species-specific variation in these traits. In niche-structured communities, the biodiversity and functioning are intimately linked, and some combination of at least some species is required to maintain the functioning of the community.

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