Disturbance–diversity models: what do they really predict and how are they tested?
The intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH) and the dynamic equilibrium model (DEM) are influential theories in ecology. The IDH predicts large species numbers at intermediate levels of disturbance and the DEM predicts that the effect of disturbance depends on the level of productivity. However, various indices of diversity are considered more commonly than the predicted number of species in tests of the hypotheses. This issue reaches beyond the scientific community as the predictions of the IDH and the DEM are used in the management of national parks and reserves. In order to compare responses with disturbance among measures of biodiversity, we used two different approaches of mathematical modelling and conducted an extensive meta-analysis. Two-thirds of the surveyed studies present different results for different diversity measures. Accordingly, the meta-analysis showed a narrow range of negative quadratic regression components for richness, but not evenness. Also, the two models support the IDH and the DEM, respectively, when biodiversity is measured as species richness, but predict evenness to increase with increasing disturbance, for all levels of productivity. Consequently, studies that use compound indices of diversity should present logical arguments, a priori, to why a specific index of diversity should peak in response to disturbance.