Neutral-like abundance distributions in the presence of selection in a continuous fitness landscape

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The neutral theory of biodiversity has successfully explained the observed composition of many ecological communities but it relies on strict demographic equivalence among species and provides no room for evolutionary processes such as selection and adaptation. Here we show how to embed the neutral theory within the Darwinian framework. In a continuous fitness landscape with a quadratic maximum, typical for quantitative traits, selection does restrict the extant species to have trait values close to optimal, but due to the continuous nature of the landscape, there are always many such species available, and so competition among them is effectively neutral. For sufficiently small mutational steps, the community structure fits perfectly to the Fisher log-series species abundance distribution. In general, the selection-mutation process, when superimposed on demographic and environmental noise, yields a small set of characteristic patterns for species abundance curves. A survey of these patterns is given.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
StatePublished - 21 Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israeli Ministry of science TASHTIOT program and by the Israeli Science Foundation Grant no. 376/12 and BIKURA Grant no. 1026/11 . We thank Michael Kalyuzhny and the anonymous referees for a critical reading of the manuscript.


  • Fisher log-series
  • Neutral theory
  • Selection
  • Species abundance distribution


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