Taking species abundance distributions beyond individuals

Hélène Morlon, Ethan P. White, Rampal S. Etienne, Jessica L. Green, Annette Ostling, David Alonso, Brian J. Enquist, Fangliang He, Allen Hurlbert, Anne E. Magurran, Brian A. Maurer, Brian J. McGill, Han Olff, David Storch, Tommaso Zillio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The species abundance distribution (SAD) is one of the few universal patterns in ecology. Research on this fundamental distribution has primarily focused on the study of numerical counts, irrespective of the traits of individuals. Here we show that considering a set of Generalized Species Abundance Distributions (GSADs) encompassing several abundance measures, such as numerical abundance, biomass and resource use, can provide novel insights into the structure of ecological communities and the forces that organize them. We use a taxonomically diverse combination of macroecological data sets to investigate the similarities and differences between GSADs. We then use probability theory to explore, under parsimonious assumptions, theoretical linkages among them. Our study suggests that examining different GSADs simultaneously in natural systems may help with assessing determinants of community structure. Broadening SADs to encompass multiple abundance measures opens novel perspectives in biodiversity research and warrants future empirical and theoretical developments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)488-501
Number of pages14
JournalEcology letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Biomass
  • Body-size
  • Energy use
  • Macroecology
  • Metabolic theory
  • Resource partitioning
  • Size distribution
  • Size-density relationship
  • Size-energy relationship
  • Species abundance distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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