Phenomenology and dynamics of competitive ecosystems beyond the niche-neutral regimes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Oct 25;119(43):e2204394119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2204394119. Epub 2022 Oct 17.


Structure, composition, and stability of ecological populations are shaped by the inter- and intraspecies interactions within their communities. It remains to be fully understood how the interplay of these interactions with other factors, such as immigration, controls the structure, the diversity, and the long-term stability of ecological systems in the presence of noise and fluctuations. We address this problem using a minimal model of interacting multispecies ecological communities that incorporates competition, immigration, and demographic noise. We find that a complete phase diagram exhibits rich behavior with multiple regimes that go beyond the classical "niche" and "neutral" regimes, extending and modifying the "rare biosphere" or "niche-like" dichotomy. In particular, we observe regimes that cannot be characterized as either niche or neutral where a multimodal species abundance distribution is observed. We characterize the transitions between the different regimes and show how these arise from the underlying kinetics of the species turnover, extinction, and invasion. Our model serves as a minimal null model of noisy competitive ecological systems, against which more complex models that include factors such as mutations and environmental noise can be compared.

Keywords: ecological drift; neutral-niche theory; phase diagram.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Biota
  • Ecosystem*
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Dynamics