Complex patch geometry promotes species coexistence through a reverse competition-colonization trade-off

Publication Name

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


Explaining the maintenance of diverse species assemblages is a central goal of ecology and conservation. Recent coexistence mechanisms highlight the role of dispersal as a source of the differences that allow similar species to coexist. Here, we propose a new mechanism for species coexistence that is based on dispersal differences, and on the geometry of the habitat patch. In a finite habitat patch with complex boundaries, species with different dispersal abilities will arrange themselves in stable, concentric patterns of dominance. Species with superior competitive and dispersal abilities will dominate the interior of the patch, with inferior species at the periphery. We demonstrate and explain the mechanism on a simple one-dimensional domain, and then on two-dimensional habitat patches with realistic geometries. Finally, we use metrics from landscape ecology to demonstrate that habitat patches with more complex geometries can more easily support coexistence. The factors that underpin this new coexistence mechanism-different dispersal abilities and habitat patches with complex geometries-are common to many marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and it is therefore possible that the mechanism is a common factor supporting diverse species assemblages.

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