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Thirty Years of Forest Census at Barro Colorado and the Importance of Immigration in Maintaining Diversity
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012
Author: Richard Condit et al.

by Richard Condit, Ryan A. Chisholm, Stephen P. Hubbell

The neutral theory of community ecology can predict diversity and abundances of tropical trees, but only under the assumption of steady input of new species into the community. Without input, diversity of a neutral community collapses, so the theory's predictions are not relevant unless novel species evolve or immigrate. We derive analytically the species input needed to maintain a target tree diversity, and find that a rate close to per recruit would maintain the observed diversity of 291 species in the Barro Colorado 50-ha tree plot in Panama. We then measured the rate empirically by comparing species present in one complete enumeration of the plot to those present five years later. Over six census intervals, the observed rate of input was to species per recruit, suggesting that there is adequate immigration of novel species to maintain diversity. Species interactions, niche partitioning, or density-dependence, while they may be present, do not appear to enhance tree species richness at Barro Colorado.