Variations on a theme: sources of heterogeneity in the form of the interspecific relationship between abundance and distribution

Timothy Blackburn, Phillip Cassey, KJ Gaston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

106 Citations (Scopus)


1. A positive interspecific relationship between abundance and distribution is widely considered to be one of the most general patterns in ecology. However, the relationship appears to vary considerably across assemblages, from significant positive to significant negative correlations and all shades in between. 2. This variation has led to the suggestion that the abundance-distribution relationship has multiple forms, with the corollary that different patterns may inform about, or have different, causes. However, this variation has never been formally quantified, nor has it been determined whether the observed variation is indicative of sampling error in estimating a single effect or of real heterogeneity in such relationships. Here, we use the meta-analytical approach to assess variation in abundance-distribution relationships, and to test different hypotheses for it. 3. Analysis of 279 relationships found a mean effect size of 0.655, which was both highly significantly different from zero and indicative of a strong positive association between abundance and distribution. However, effect sizes were highly heterogeneous, supporting the contention that this relationship does indeed have multiple forms. 4. Most notably, relationships vary significantly in strength across realms, with the strongest in the marine and intertidal, intermediate relationships for terrestrial and parasitic assemblages, and the weakest relationships in freshwater systems. Effect sizes in all of the aquatic realms are homogeneous, suggesting that realm is an important source of the heterogeneity observed across all studies. We posit that this may be because the different spatial structure of the environment in each realm affects the opportunity for the dispersal of individuals between sites. 5. Some of the remaining heterogeneity in effect sizes for terrestrial assemblages could be explained by partitioning assemblages by habitat, scale, biogeographical region and taxon, but considerable heterogeneity in effect sizes for terrestrial and parasitic assemblages remained unexplained.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1426-1439
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2006


  • meta-analysis
  • density
  • macroecology
  • occupancy
  • geographical range size


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