Based on both theoretical and empirical studies there is evidence that different species abundance distributions underlie different species-area relationships. Here I show that Australian and Californian shrubland communities (at the scale from 1 to 1000 m2) exhibit different species-area relationships and different species abundance patterns. The species-area relationship in Australian heathlands best fits an exponential model and species abundance (based on both density and cover) follows a narrow log normal distribution. In contrast, the species-area relationship in Californian shrublands is best fit with the power model and, although species abundance appears to fit a log normal distribution, the distribution is much broader than in Australian heathlands. I hypothesize that the primary driver of these differences is the abundance of small-stature annual species in California and the lack of annuals in Australian heathlands. Species-area is best fit by an exponential model in Australian heathlands because the bulk of the species are common and thus the species-area curves initially rise rapidly between 1 and 100 m2. Annuals in Californian shrublands generate very broad species abundance distributions with many uncommon or rare species. The power function is a better model in these communities because richness increases slowly from 1 to 100 m2 but more rapidly between 100 and 1000 m2 due to the abundance of rare or uncommon species that are more likely to be encountered at coarser spatial scales. The implications of this study are that both the exponential and power function models are legitimate representations of species-area relationships in different plant communities. Also, structural differences in community organization, arising from different species abundance distributions, may lead to different species-area curves, and this may be tied to patterns of life form distribution.
Additional publication details
Relating species abundance distributions to species-area curves in two Mediterranean-type shrublands