skip to main content

Title: Understanding the impact of third-party species on pairwise coexistence
The persistence of virtually every single species depends on both the presence of other species and the specific environmental conditions in a given location. Because in natural settings many of these conditions are unknown, research has been centered on finding the fraction of possible conditions (probability) leading to species coexistence. The focus has been on the persistence probability of an entire multispecies community (formed of either two or more species). However, the methodological and philosophical question has always been whether we can observe the entire community and, if not, what the conditions are under which an observed subset of the community can persist as part of a larger multispecies system. Here, we derive long-term (using analytical calculations) and short-term (using simulations and experimental data) system-level indicators of the effect of third-party species on the coexistence probability of a pair (or subset) of species under unknown environmental conditions. We demonstrate that the fraction of conditions incompatible with the possible coexistence of a pair of species tends to become vanishingly small within systems of increasing numbers of species. Yet, the probability of pairwise coexistence in isolation remains approximately the expected probability of pairwise coexistence in more diverse assemblages. In addition, we found that when third-party species tend to reduce (resp. increase) the coexistence probability of a pair, they tend to exhibit slower (resp. faster) rates of competitive exclusion. Long-term and short-term effects of the remaining third-party species on all possible specific pairs in a system are not equally distributed, but these differences can be mapped and anticipated under environmental uncertainty.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Mitri, Sara
Date Published:
Journal Name:
PLOS Computational Biology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Mounting evidence suggests that plant–soil feedbacks (PSF) may determine plant community structure. However, we still have a poor understanding of how predictions from short‐term PSF experiments compare with outcomes of long‐term field experiments involving competing plants. We conducted a reciprocal greenhouse experiment to examine how the growth of prairie grass species depended on the soil communities cultured by conspecific or heterospecific plant species in the field. The source soil came from monocultures in a long‐term competition experiment (LTCE; Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, MN, USA). Within the LTCE, six species of perennial prairie grasses were grown in monocultures or in eight pairwise competition plots for 12 years under conditions of low or high soil nitrogen availability. In six cases, one species clearly excluded the other; in two cases, the pair appeared to coexist. In year 15, we gathered soil from all 12 soil types (monocultures of six species by two nitrogen levels) and grew seedlings of all six species in each soil type for 7 weeks. Using biomass estimates from this greenhouse experiment, we predicted coexistence or competitive exclusion using pairwise PSFs, as derived by Bever and colleagues, and compared model predictions to observed outcomes within the LTCE. Pairwise PSFs among the species pairs ranged from negative, which is predicted to promote coexistence, to positive, which is predicted to promote competitive exclusion. However, these short‐term PSF predictions bore no systematic resemblance to the actual outcomes of competition observed in the LTCE. Other forces may have more strongly influenced the competitive interactions or critical assumptions that underlie the PSF predictions may not have been met. Importantly, the pairwise PSF score derived by Bever et al. is only valid when the two species exhibit an internal equilibrium, corresponding to the Lotka–Volterra competition outcomes of stable coexistence and founder control. Predicting the other two scenarios, competitive exclusion by either species irrespective of initial conditions, requires measuring biomass in uncultured soil, which is methodologically challenging. Subject to several caveats that we discuss, our results call into question whether long‐term competitive outcomes in the field can be predicted from the results of short‐term PSF experiments.

    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    Competition for limited space is an important driver of benthic community structure on coral reefs. Studies of coral-algae and coral-sponge interactions often show competitive dominance of algae and sponges over corals, but little is known about the outcomes when these groups compete in a multispecies context. Multispecies competition is increasingly common on Caribbean coral reefs as environmental degradation drives loss of reef-building corals and proliferation of alternative organisms such as algae and sponges. New methods are needed to understand multispecies competition, whose outcomes can differ widely from pairwise competition and range from coexistence to exclusion. In this study, we used 3D photogrammetry and image analyses to compare pairwise and multispecies competition on reefs in the US Virgin Islands. Sponges ( Desmapsamma anchorata, Aplysina cauliformis ) and macroalgae ( Lobophora variegata ) were attached to coral ( Porites astreoides ) and arranged to simulate multispecies (coral-sponge-algae) and pairwise (coral-sponge, coral-algae) competition. Photogrammetric 3D models were produced to measure surface area change of coral and sponges, and photographs were analyzed to measure sponge-coral, algae-coral, and algae-sponge overgrowth. Coral lost more surface area and was overgrown more rapidly by the sponge D. anchorata in multispecies treatments, when the sponge was also in contact with algae. Algae contact may confer a competitive advantage to the sponge D. anchorata, but not to A. cauliformis , underscoring the species-specificity of these interactions. This first application of photogrammetry to study competition showed meaningful losses of living coral that, combined with significant overgrowths by competitors detected from image analyses, exposed a novel outcome of multispecies competition. 
    more » « less
  3. Microbial populations generally evolve in volatile environments, under conditions fluctuating between harsh and mild, e.g. as the result of sudden changes in toxin concentration or nutrient abundance. Environmental variability (EV) thus shapes the long-time population dynamics, notably by influencing the ability of different strains of microorganisms to coexist. Inspired by the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, we study the dynamics of a community consisting of two competing strains subject to twofold EV. The level of toxin varies in time, favouring the growth of one strain under low drug concentration and the other strain when the toxin level is high. We also model time-changing resource abundance by a randomly switching carrying capacity that drives the fluctuating size of the community. While one strain dominates in a static environment, we show that species coexistence is possible in the presence of EV. By computational and analytical means, we determine the environmental conditions under which long-lived coexistence is possible and when it is almost certain. Notably, we study the circumstances under which environmental and demographic fluctuations promote, or hinder, the strains coexistence. We also determine how the make-up of the coexistence phase and the average abundance of each strain depend on the EV. 
    more » « less
  4. Summary

    Natural populations often show variation in traits that can affect the strength of interspecific interactions. Interaction strengths in turn influence the fate of pairwise interacting populations and the stability of food webs. Understanding the mechanisms relating individual phenotypic variation to interaction strengths is thus central to assess how trait variation affects population and community dynamics. We incorporated nonheritable variation in attack rates and handling times into a classical consumer–resource model to investigate how variation may alter interaction strengths, population dynamics, species persistence, and invasiveness. We found that individual variation influences species persistence through its effect on interaction strengths. In many scenarios, interaction strengths decrease with variation, which in turn affects species coexistence and stability. Because environmental change alters the direction and strength of selection acting upon phenotypic traits, our results have implications for species coexistence in a context of habitat fragmentation, climate change, and the arrival of exotic species to native ecosystems.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Coexisting species often exhibit negative frequency dependence due to mechanisms that promote population growth and persistence when rare. These stabilising mechanisms can maintain diversity through interspecific niche differences, but also through life‐history strategies like dormancy that buffer populations in fluctuating environments. However, there are few tests demonstrating how seed banks contribute to long‐term community dynamics and the maintenance of diversity. Using a multi‐year, high‐frequency time series of bacterial community data from a north temperate lake, we documented patterns consistent with stabilising coexistence. Bacterial taxa exhibited differential responses to seasonal environmental conditions, while seed bank dynamics helped maintain diversity over less‐favourable winter periods. Strong negative frequency dependence in rare, but metabolically active, taxa suggested a role for biotic interactions in promoting coexistence. Together, our results provide field‐based evidence that niche differences and seed banks contribute to recurring community dynamics and the long‐term maintenance of diversity in nature.

    more » « less