Characterizing abundance-occupancy relationships: There is no artefact

Thomas J. Webb, Robert P. Freckleton, Kevin J. Gaston

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Positive abundance-occupancy relationships (AORs) are among the most general macroecological patterns: locally common species are regionally widespread, locally rare species are regionally restricted. In a recent contribution, Wilson (Global Ecology and Biogeography, 2011, 20, 193-202) made three claims: (1) that AORs are critically dependent on the method used to calculate average abundance; (2) averaging abundance over occupied sites tends to lead to a very high incidence of negative relationships; (3) this represents a statistical artefact that should be considered in studies of AORs. Here we show that this outcome arises in Wilson's simulations purely due to an arbitrary choice of occupancy models and parameter ranges. The resulting negative relationships are not statistical artefacts, but are easily interpreted in terms of spatial aggregation in abundant species. The fact that empirical evidence fails to support a high prevalence of negative AORs suggests, however, that such parameter combinations arise only rarely in nature. We conclude that simulations that are based on untested assumptions, and that produce patterns unsupported by empirical evidence, have limited use in characterizing AORs, and add little to understanding of the processes driving important relationships between local population size and regional occupancy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)952-957
Number of pages6
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Local population density
  • Macroecology
  • Occupancy models
  • Regional occupancy
  • Simulations
  • Statistical artefacts

Cite this