The worldwide loss of natural habitats leads not only to the loss of habitat-endemic species but also to further and protracted extinctions in the reduced areas that remain. How rapid is this process? We use the neutral theory of biodiversity to answer this question, and we compare the results taken with observed rates of avifaunal extinctions. In the neutral model, we derive an exact solution for the rate of species loss in a closed community. The simple, closed-form solution exhibits hyperbolic decay of species richness with time, which implies a potentially rapid initial decline followed by much slower rates long term. Our empirical estimates of extinction times are based on published studies for avifaunal extinctions either on oceanic islands or in forest fragments, which span a total of six orders of magnitude in area. These estimates show that the time to extinction strongly depends on the area. The neutral-theory predictions agree well with observed rates over three orders of magnitude of area (between 100 and 100,000 ha) both for islands and forest fragments. Regarding the species abundance distribution, extinction times based on a broken-stick model led to better agreement with observation than if a log-series model was used. The predictions breakdown for very small or very large areas. Thus, neutrality may be an affordable assumption for some applications in ecology and conservation, particularly for areas of intermediate size.
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|Publication status||Published - Feb 8 2011|
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