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Open Access Research article

A comparison of random draw and locally neutral models for the avifauna of an English woodland

Andrew M Dolman* and Tim M Blackburn

Author Affiliations

School of Biosciences, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

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BMC Ecology 2004, 4:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-4-8

Published: 3 June 2004

Abstract

Background

Explanations for patterns observed in the structure of local assemblages are frequently sought with reference to interactions between species, and between species and their local environment. However, analyses of null models, where non-interactive local communities are assembled from regional species pools, have demonstrated that much of the structure of local assemblages remains in simulated assemblages where local interactions have been excluded. Here we compare the ability of two null models to reproduce the breeding bird community of Eastern Wood, a 16-hectare woodland in England, UK. A random draw model, in which there is complete annual replacement of the community by immigrants from the regional pool, is compared to a locally neutral community model, in which there are two additional parameters describing the proportion of the community replaced annually (per capita death rate) and the proportion of individuals recruited locally rather than as immigrants from the regional pool.

Results

Both the random draw and locally neutral model are capable of reproducing with significant accuracy several features of the observed structure of the annual Eastern Wood breeding bird community, including species relative abundances, species richness and species composition. The two additional parameters present in the neutral model result in a qualitatively more realistic representation of the Eastern Wood breeding bird community, particularly of its dynamics through time. The fact that these parameters can be varied, allows for a close quantitative fit between model and observed communities to be achieved, particularly with respect to annual species richness and species accumulation through time.

Conclusion

The presence of additional free parameters does not detract from the qualitative improvement in the model and the neutral model remains a model of local community structure that is null with respect to species differences at the local scale. The ability of this locally neutral model to describe a larger number of woodland bird communities with either little variation in its parameters or with variation explained by features local to the woods themselves (such as the area and isolation of a wood) will be a key subsequent test of its relevance.