by Rafael D’Andrea, Theo Gibbs, James P. O’Dwyer
Neutral theory assumes all species and individuals in a community are ecologically equivalent. This controversial hypothesis has been tested across many taxonomic groups and environmental contexts, and successfully predicts species abundance distributions across multiple high-diversity communities. However, it has been critiqued for its failure to predict a broader range of community properties, particularly regarding community dynamics from generational to geological timescales. Moreover, it is unclear whether neutrality can ever be a true description of a community given the ubiquity of interspecific differences, which presumably lead to ecological inequivalences. Here we derive analytical predictions for when and why non-neutral communities of consumers and resources may present neutral-like outcomes, which we verify using numerical simulations. Our results, which span both static and dynamical community properties, demonstrate the limitations of summarizing distributions to detect non-neutrality, and provide a potential explanation for the successes of neutral theory as a description of macroecological pattern.