Disentangling the importance of ecological niches from stochastic processes across scales

Jonathan M. Chase, Jonathan A. Myers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

944 Scopus citations


Deterministic theories in community ecology suggest that local, niche-based processes, such as environmental filtering, biotic interactions and inter-specific trade-offs largely determine patterns of species diversity and composition. In contrast, more stochastic theories emphasize the importance of chance colonization, random extinction and ecological drift. The schisms between deterministic and stochastic perspectives, which date back to the earliest days of ecology, continue to fuel contemporary debates (e.g. niches versus neutrality). As illustrated by the pioneering studies of Robert H. MacArthur and co-workers, resolution to these debates requires consideration of how the importance of local processes changes across scales. Here, we develop a framework for disentangling the relative importance of deterministic and stochastic processes in generating site-to-site variation in species composition (β-diversity) along ecological gradients (disturbance, productivity and biotic interactions) and among bio-geographic regions that differ in the size of the regional species pool. We illustrate how to discern the importance of deterministic processes using null-model approaches that explicitly account for local and regional factors that inherently create stochastic turnover. By embracing processes across scales, we can build a more synthetic framework for understanding how niches structure patterns of biodiversity in the face of stochastic processes that emerge from local and bio-geographic factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2351-2363
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1576
StatePublished - 2011


  • Biogeography
  • Community assembly
  • Ecological drift
  • Niche selection
  • Regional species pool
  • β-diversity


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