Multiple modes in a coral species abundance distribution

Ecology Letters
Maria Dornelas, Sean R Connolly


Species abundance distributions are an important measure of biodiversity and community structure. These distributions are affected by sampling, and alternative species-abundance models often make similar predictions for small sample sizes. Very large samples reveal the relative abundances of rare species, and thus provide information about species relative abundances that small samples cannot. Here, we present the species-abundance distribution for a sample of > 40,000 coral colonies at a single site, exceeding existing samples of coral local assemblages by over an order of magnitude. This abundance distribution is multimodal when examined on a logarithmic scale. Four different model selection procedures all indicate that the underlying community abundance distribution has at least three modes. We show that the multiple modes are not caused by mixtures of species with different habitat preferences. However, spatial aggregation partially explains our results. We inspect published work on species abundance distributions, and suggest that multimodality may be a common feature of large samples.


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