Positive interactions among competitors can produce species-rich communities

Ecol Lett. 2008 Sep;11(9):929-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01204.x. Epub 2008 May 15.


Although positive interactions between species are well documented, most ecological theory for investigating multispecies coexistence remains rooted in antagonistic interactions such as competition and predation. Standard resource-competition models from this theory predict that the number of coexisting species should not exceed the number of factors that limit population growth. Here I show that positive interactions among resource competitors can produce species-rich model communities supported by a single limiting resource. Simulations show that when resource competitors reduce each others' per capita mortality rate (e.g. by ameliorating an abiotic stress), stable multispecies coexistence with a single resource may be common, even while the net interspecific interaction remains negative. These results demonstrate that positive interactions may provide an important mechanism for generating species-rich communities in nature. They also show that focusing on the net interaction between species may conceal important coexistence mechanisms when species simultaneously engage in both antagonistic and positive interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Ecology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Dynamics