Microbial communities found in nature are composed of many rare species and few abundant ones, as reflected by their heavy-tailed abundance distributions. How a large number of species can coexist in those complex communities and why they are dominated by rare species is still not fully understood. We show how heavy-tailed distributions arise as an emergent property from large communities with many interacting species in population-level models. To do so, we rely on generalized Lotka-Volterra models for which we introduce a global maximal capacity. This maximal capacity accounts for the fact that communities are limited by available resources and space. In a parallel ad hoc approach, we obtain heavy-tailed abundance distributions from logistic models, without interactions, through specific distributions of the parameters. We expect both mechanisms, interactions between many species and specific parameter distributions, to be relevant to explain the observed heavy tails.