THE NEUTRAL THEORY OF BIODIVERSITY AND BIOGEOGRAPHY: THEORETICAL. ASPECTS, IMPACTS AND PROSPECTS
Keywords:Neutral models, Metacommunities, Dispersion, Speciation, Ecological drift.
In this paper, we explore the theoretical aspects of Hubbel's Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography (NTB), showing the results of a scientometric survey about the impact of this theory on the scientific community, its developments, critiques and perspectives. The NTB can contribute to developing null hypotheses and provides a strong conceptual and analytical tool in ecology, especially for the understanding of communities in which some clear spatially-structured mechanisms play an important role. The most provocative premise of NTB is that individuals from different species are ecologically equivalent. This poses a contrary view to the classical niche theory to explain the structure of biological communities, and refutes the theory of evolution by natural selection. The book in which Hubbell presented the NTB has had up to date a high impact over scientific literature. Hubbell's book was cited by 1,128 scientific articles belonging to 239 scientific journals over 21 different subject categories. NTB impacted several scientific fields, but was debated mainly by ecologists and conservation biologists. Criticism against NTB is frequent, mainly direct at its main axiom, the ecological equivalence of the species. In spite of that and of the fact that NTB was refuted in many papers, there are papers giving support to its predictions, and presenting theoretical advances and new analytical tools. Even the opposers of the NTB consider it an easily testable elegant theory that was a major contribution to ecology.