Spatial complementarity and the coexistence of species
Velázquez, Jorge and Garrahan, Juan P. and Eichhorn, Markus P. (2014) Spatial complementarity and the coexistence of species. PLoS ONE, 9 (12). e114979. ISSN 1932-6203
Coexistence of apparently similar species remains an enduring paradox in ecology. Spatial structure has been predicted to enable coexistence even when population-level models predict competitive exclusion if it causes each species to limit its own population more than that of its competitor. Nevertheless, existing hypotheses conflict with regard to whether clustering favours or precludes coexistence. The spatial segregation hypothesis predicts that in clustered populations the frequency of intra-specific interactions will be increased, causing each species to be self-limiting. Alternatively, individuals of the same species might compete over greater distances, known as heteromyopia, breaking down clusters and opening space for a second species to invade. In this study we create an individual-based model in homogeneous two-dimensional space for two putative sessile species differing only in their demographic rates and the range and strength of their competitive interactions. We fully characterise the parameter space within which coexistence occurs beyond population-level predictions, thereby revealing a region of coexistence generated by a previously-unrecognised process which we term the triadic mechanism. Here coexistence occurs due to the ability of a second generation of offspring of the rarer species to escape competition from their ancestors. We diagnose the conditions under which each of three spatial coexistence mechanisms operates and their characteristic spatial signatures. Deriving insights from a novel metric — ecological pressure — we demonstrate that coexistence is not solely determined by features of the numerically-dominant species. This results in a common framework for predicting, given any pair of species and knowledge of the relevant parameters, whether they will coexist, the mechanism by which they will do so, and the resultant spatial pattern of the community. Spatial coexistence arises from complementary combinations of traits in each species rather than solely through self-limitation.
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