The control of rank-abundance distributions by a competitive despotic species

Ralph MAC NALLY, Clive McAlpine, Hugh Possingham, Martine Maron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Accounting for differences in abundances among species remains a high priority for community ecology. While there has been more than 80 years of work on trying to explain the characteristic S shape of rank-abundance distributions (RADs), there has been recent conjecture that the form may not depend on ecological processes per se but may be a general phenomenon arising in many unrelated disciplines. We show that the RAD shape can be influenced by an ecological process, namely, interference competition. The noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala) is a hyperaggressive, 'despotic' bird that occurs over much of eastern Australia (>106 km2). We compiled data for bird communities from 350 locations within its range, which were collected using standard avian survey methods. We used hierarchical Bayesian models to show that the RAD shape was much altered when the abundance of the strong interactor exceeded a threshold density; RADs consistently were steeper when the density of the noisy miner =2.5 birds ha-1. The structure of bird communities at sites where the noisy miner exceeded this density was very different from that at sites where the densities fell below the threshold: species richness and Shannon diversity were much reduced, but mean abundances and mean avian biomass per site did not differ substantially.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-857
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2014


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