An exactly solvable coarse-grained model for species diversity
We present novel analytical results concerning ecosystem species diversity that stem from a proposed coarse-grained neutral model based on birth-death processes. The relevance of the problem lies in the urgency for understanding and synthesizing both theoretical results from ecological neutral theory and empirical evidence on species diversity preservation. The neutral model of biodiversity deals with ecosystems at the same trophic level, where per capita vital rates are assumed to be species independent. Closed-form analytical solutions for the neutral theory are obtained within a coarse-grained model, where the only input is the species persistence time distribution. Our results pertain to: the probability distribution function of the number of species in the ecosystem, both in transient and in stationary states; the n-point connected time correlation function; and the survival probability, defined as the distribution of time spans to local extinction for a species randomly sampled from the community. Analytical predictions are also tested on empirical data from an estuarine fish ecosystem. We find that emerging properties of the ecosystem are very robust and do not depend on specific details of the model, with implications for biodiversity and conservation biology.