Exploring the spatially explicit predictions of the Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology


Aim The maximum entropy theory of ecology (METE) is a unified theory of biodiversity that attempts to simultaneously predict patterns of species abundance, size and spatial structure. The spatial predictions of this theory have repeatedly performed well at predicting diversity patterns across scales. However, the theoretical development and evaluation of METE has focused on predicting patterns that ignore intersite spatial correlations. As a result the theory has not been evaluated using one of the core components of spatial structure. We develop and test a semi-recursive version of the spatially explicit predictions of METE for the distance–decay relationship of community similarity and compare its performance with the classic random placement model of completely random species distributions. This provides a better understanding and stronger test of the spatial community predictions of METE. Location New World tropical and temperate plant communities. Methods We analytically derived and simulated the spatially explicit expectations of METE for the Sørensen index of community similarity. We then compared the distance–decay of community similarity of 16 mapped plant communities with METE and the random placement model. Results The version of METE we examined was successful at capturing the general functional form of the observed distance–decay relationships, a negative power function relationship between community similarity and distance. However, the semi-recursive approach consistently predicted lower intercepts and higher slopes than observed in the empirical distance–decay relationships and yielded worse predictions than the random placement model. Main conclusions Our results suggest that while the current spatial models of METE accurately predict the spatial scaling of species occupancy, and therefore core ecological patterns like the species–area relationship, its semi-recursive form does not accurately characterize spatially explicit patterns of correlation. More generally, this suggests that tests of spatial theories based only on the species–area relationship may appear to support the underlying theory despite significant deviations in important aspects of spatial structure.

Global Ecology and Biogeography, 24:675-684