Coexistence and relative abundance in annual plant assemblages: The roles of competition and colonization

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Although an interspecific trade-off between competitive and colonizing ability can permit multispecies coexistence, whether this mechanism controls the structure of natural systems remains unresolved. We used models to evaluate the hypothesized importance of this trade-off for explaining coexistence and relative abundance patterns in annual plant assemblages. In a nonspatial model, empirically derived competition-colonization trade-offs related to seed mass were insufficient to generate coexistence. This was unchanged by spatial structure or interspecific variation in the fraction of seeds dispersing globally. These results differ from those of the more generalized competition-colonization models because the latter assume completely asymmetric competition, an assumption that appears unrealistic considering existing data for annual systems. When, for heuristic purposes, completely asymmetric competition was incorporated into our models, unlimited coexistence was possible. However, in the resulting abundance patterns, the best competitors/poorest colonizers were the most abundant, the opposite of that observed in natural systems. By contrast, these natural patterns were produced by competition-colonization models where environmental heterogeneity permitted species coexistence. Thus, despite the failure of the simple competition-colonization trade-off to explain coexistence in annual plant systems, this trade-off may be essential to explaining relative abundance patterns when other processes permit coexistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)452-467
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Annual plants
  • Coexistence
  • Colonization
  • Competition
  • Niche


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