A structural approach for understanding multispecies coexistence

Serguei Saavedra, Rudolf P. Rohr, Jordi Bascompte, Oscar Godoy, Nathan J.B. Kraft, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


Although observations of species-rich communities have long served as a primary motivation for research on the coexistence of competitors, the majority of our empirical and theoretical understanding comes from two-species systems. How much of the coexistence observed in species-rich communities results from indirect effects among competitors that only emerge in diverse systems remains poorly understood. Resolving this issue requires simple, scalable, and intuitive metrics for quantifying the conditions for coexistence in multispecies systems, and how these conditions differ from those expected based solely on pairwise interactions. To achieve these aims, we develop a structural approach for studying the set of parameter values compatible with n-species coexistence given the geometric constraints imposed by the matrix of competition coefficients. We derive novel mathematical metrics analogous to stabilizing niche differences and fitness differences that measure the range of conditions compatible with multispecies coexistence, incorporating the effects of indirect interactions emerging in diverse systems. We show how our measures can be used to quantify the extent to which the conditions for coexistence in multispecies systems differ from those that allow pairwise coexistence, and apply the method to a field system of annual plants. We conclude by presenting new challenges and empirical opportunities emerging from our structural metrics of multispecies coexistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)470-486
Number of pages17
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • community dynamics
  • feasibility
  • invasion criterion
  • multiple competitors
  • niche and fitness differences
  • pairwise effects
  • structural stability


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