Biodiversity Science ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (4): 345-354.doi: 10.17520/biods.2017034

• Reviews • Previous Article     Next Article

Advances in species coexistence theory

Chengjin Chu1, *(), Youshi Wang1, Yu Liu1, Lin Jiang2, Fangliang He1, 3   

  1. 1 SYSU-Alberta Joint Laboratory for Biodiversity Conservation, State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
    2 School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA 30332
    3 Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada T6G 2H1
  • Received:2017-02-12 Accepted:2017-04-01 Online:2017-04-20
  • Chu Chengjin

How species coexist locally is a fundamental question in community ecology. Classical coexistence theory underscores the importance of niche differentiation between species and focuses on specific coexistence mechanisms. Studies on these specific coexistence mechanisms have profoundly contributed to understanding species coexistence at the local scale and inspired ecologists to create a more general contemporary coexistence theory. Under the contemporary coexistence theory, species differences are categorized into two groups: niche differences and average fitness differences. Niche differences serve as stabilizing mechanisms that promote species coexistence, whereas average fitness differences are related to equalizing mechanisms that drive competitive exclusion. In this paper we provide a detailed review of contemporary coexistence theory, including its definition and theoretical models, empirical tests of these models and their applications to biodiversity studies. Coexistence theory has applications in a number of other areas including biodiversity conservation and management in a changing world beyond the basic concept of how communities are structured. We show how contemporary coexistence theory has advanced the niche-based classic coexistence theory, helping us to better understand the underlying mechanisms of community assembly and biodiversity maintenance.

Key words: niche, stabilizing mechanisms, equalizing mechanisms, niche differences, average fitness differences

Fig. 1

The conceptual diagram of contemporary coexistence theory. Species differences are categorized into two groups: niche differences and average fitness differences. Niche differences maintain species stable coexistence, and average fitness differences drive competitive exclusion. For a given community, the balance between niche differences and average fitness differences determines the outcome of competition. In the gray region, niche differences are larger than average fitness differences, which results in stable coexistence. In the white region, average fitness differences are stronger than niche differences, which results in competitive exclusion. Niche differences correspond to stabilizing mechanisms, and average fitness differences correspond to equalizing mechanisms."

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