Rethinking community assembly through the lens of coexistence theory

J. HilleRisLambers, P. B. Adler, W. S. Harpole, J. M. Levine, M. M. Mayfield

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

977 Scopus citations


Although research on the role of competitive interactions during community assembly began decades ago, a recent revival of interest has led to new discoveries and research opportunities. Using contemporary coexistence theory that emphasizes stabilizing niche differences and relative fitness differences, we evaluate three empirical approaches for studying community assembly. We show that experimental manipulations of the abiotic or biotic environment, assessments of trait-phylogeny-environment relationships, and investigations of frequency-dependent population growth all suggest strong Influences of stabilizing niche differences and fitness differences on the outcome of plant community assembly. Nonetheless, due to the limitations of these approaches applied in isolation, we still have a poor understanding of which niche axes and which traits determine the outcome of competition and community structure. Combining current approaches represents our best chance of achieving this goal, which is fundamental to conceptual ecology and to the management of plant communities under global change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-248
Number of pages22
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


  • biotic filters
  • clustering
  • environmental filters
  • overdispersion
  • relative fitness differences
  • stabilizing niche differences


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