In recent years, biodiversity has become an issue of broad academic interest, and its assessment and maintenance are now recognized as an important area of ecological research. While the concept of biodiversity encompasses, first and foremost, the total number of species co-occurring in a locality, it has increasingly been realized that information on the relative abundances of co-occurring species is also required for a better understanding of the patterns and dynamics of biodiversity. In many areas of ecological research, "abundance" constitutes a key variable that characterizes populations and communities. The relative abundances of species in natural communities reflect evolutionary and contemporary processes occurring on different spatiotemporal scales. The idea of niche apportionment has been developed to provide an integrated conceptual framework for the study of species abundance patterns in communities. This article reviews a number of important issues surrounding the concept of niche apportionment, including some aspects that have received very little or no consideration in previous ecological literature. The main emphasis here is on possible evolutionary implications and backgrounds. Further, as a universal factor which affects species abundance in one way or another, body size is highlighted and its relationship with abundance ("density-body-size relation") is considered, referring in particular to a recent comprehensive analysis of freshwater benthic data. Consideration of this and other studies has led to the formulation of the biomass equivalence rule, that suggests the independence of the biomass measure of abundance from body size, which strengthens the logical basis of niche apportionment models. It is suggested that, compared with Hubbell's neutral theory of biodiversity, niche apportionment with the biomass equivalence rule represents a conceptually more sound and widely applicable approach to elucidating species abundance patterns.
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