Royal Society Publishing

The interpretation of biological surveys

G. Bell


Biological surveys provide the raw material for assembling ecological patterns. These include the properties of parameters such as range, abundance, dispersion, evenness and diversity; the relationships between these parameters; the relationship between geographical distributions and landscape structure; and the co-occurrence of species. These patterns have often been used in the past to evaluate the role of ecological processes in structuring natural communities. In this paper, I investigate the patterns produced by simple neutral community models (NCMs) and compare them with the output of systematic biological surveys. The NCM generates qualitatively, and in some cases quantitatively, the same patterns as the survey data. It therefore provides a satisfactory general theory of diversity and distribution, although what patterns can be used to distinguish neutral from adaptationist interpretations of communities, or even whether such patterns exist, remains unclear.