Reconciling empirical interactions and species coexistence

Ecol Lett. 2019 Jun;22(6):1028-1037. doi: 10.1111/ele.13256. Epub 2019 Mar 22.


Coexistence in ecological communities is governed largely by the nature and intensity of species interactions. Countless studies have proposed methods to infer these interactions from empirical data, yet models parameterised using such data often fail to recover observed coexistence patterns. Here, we propose a method to reconcile empirical parameterisations of community dynamics with species-abundance data, ensuring that the predicted equilibrium is consistent with the observed abundance distribution. To illustrate the approach, we explore two case studies: an experimental freshwater algal community and a long-term time series of displacement in an intertidal community. We demonstrate how our method helps recover observed coexistence patterns, capture the core dynamics of the system, and, in the latter case, predict the impacts of experimental extinctions. Collectively, these results demonstrate an intuitive approach for reconciling observed and empirical data, improving our ability to explore the links between species interactions and coexistence in natural systems.

Keywords: Lotka-Volterra equation; coexistence; dynamical modelling; quadratic programming; replicator equation; species abundance; species interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity