Demographic analysis of Hubbell's neutral theory of biodiversity

Omri Allouche*, Ronen Kadmon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Hubbell's neutral model is increasingly applied in both theoretical and empirical studies but so far little attention has been paid to the ecological mechanisms that determine species diversity in neutral communities. In this contribution we use a stochastic individual-based Markovian model to provide an explicit derivation of Hubbell's local community model from the fundamental processes of reproduction, mortality, and immigration, and show that such derivation provides important insights on the mechanisms regulating species diversity that cannot be obtained from the original model and its previous extensions. One important insight is that the basic parameters of Hubbell's model, community size (J) and the probability that a dying individual will be replaced by an immigrant (m), cannot be considered independent and that their interdependency leads to a counterintuitive trade-off between community size and species diversity. We further demonstrate that Hubbell's treatment of community size as a free parameter hides fundamental mechanisms that influence species diversity through their effect on the size of the community. For example, while in Hubbell's model immigration can only increase species diversity by promoting colonization rates, the demographic derivation shows that immigration can also promote species diversity by reducing extinction rates. Our demographic derivation also unifies previous contrasting predictions about the effect of reproduction on species diversity by showing that both positive and negative effects are possible, and that the balance between the two effects depends on the size of the community. The demographic derivation also reconciles an apparent contradiction between Hubbell's theory and patch occupancy theory, and integrates three previously proposed mechanisms of species diversity, the More Individuals Hypothesis, the rescue effect, and the dilution effect, within a single, unified framework.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)274-280
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. The research was financially supported by a grant from the Israel Science Foundation.


  • Community dynamics
  • Demography
  • Ecological drift
  • Individual-based model
  • Mainland-island model
  • Metacommunity dynamics


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