How do species divide resources to produce the characteristic species abundance distributions seen in nature? One way to resolve this problem is to examine how the biomass (or capacity) of the spatial guilds that combine to produce an abundance distribution is allocated among species. Here we argue that selection on body size varies across guilds occupying spatially distinct habitats. Using an exceptionally well-characterized estuarine fish community, we show that biomass is concentrated in large bodied species in guilds where habitat structure provides protection from predators, but not in those guilds associated with open habitats and where safety in numbers is a mechanism for reducing predation risk. We further demonstrate that while there is temporal turnover in the abundances and identities of species that comprise these guilds, guild rank order is conserved across our 30-year time series. These results demonstrate that ecological communities are not randomly assembled but can be decomposed into guilds where capacity is predictably allocated among species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3722-3726
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1743
Early online date11 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2012


  • Biodiversity
  • Predation
  • Estuarine fish
  • Body size
  • Biomass


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