Area-heterogeneity tradeoff and the diversity of ecological communities

Omri Allouche*, Michael Kalyuzhny, Gregorio Moreno-Rueda, Manuel Pizarro, Ronen Kadmon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

245 Scopus citations


For more than 50 y ecologists have believed that spatial heterogeneity in habitat conditions promotes species richness by increasing opportunities for niche partitioning. However, a recent stochastic model combining the main elements of niche theory and island biogeography theory suggests that environmental heterogeneity has a general unimodal rather than a positive effect on species richness. This result was explained by an inherent tradeoff between environmental heterogeneity and the amount of suitable area available for individual species: for a given area, as heterogeneity increases, the amount of effective area available for individual species decreases, thereby reducing population sizes and increasing the likelihood of stochastic extinctions. Here we provide a comprehensive evaluation of this hypothesis. First we analyze an extensive database of breeding bird distribution in Catalonia and show that patterns of species richness, species abundance, and extinction rates are consistent with the predictions of the area-heterogeneity tradeoff and its proposed mechanisms. We then perform a metaanalysis of heterogeneity-diversity relationships in 54 published datasets and show that empirical data better fit the unimodal pattern predicted by the area-heterogeneity tradeoff than the positive pattern predicted by classic niche theory. Simulations in which species may have variable niche widths along a continuous environmental gradient are consistent with all empirical findings. The area-heterogeneity tradeoff brings a unique perspective to current theories of species diversity and has important implications for biodiversity conservation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)17495-17500
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - 23 Oct 2012


  • Conservation planning
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Neutral theory
  • Stochastic model of community dynamics


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