Moving beyond the diversity paradox: the limitations of competition-based frameworks in understanding species diversity

  • Anita Simha (Creator)
  • Carlos Pardo-De la Hoz (Creator)
  • Lauren Carley (Creator)



Over the last century, ecologists have attempted to understand patterns of species diversity by showing stable coexistence arising from a baseline expectation of competitive exclusion. This expectation stems from an explicit assumption of resource scarcity and implicit assumptions of Malthusian struggle and winner-take-all dynamics. Fidelity to the competitive exclusion principle (CEP) presents species diversity as a paradox: if species compete for limited resources, how can they coexist? In this essay, we investigate the contradiction between the theoretical expectation of competitive exclusion and the empirical prevalence of multispecies communities. We trace the persistence of the CEP in ecological research despite numerous challenges and explore publishing trends suggesting that this framework has resulted in a disproportionate focus on competition and exclusion in contemporary research. From a critical science studies perspective, we analyze the sociopolitical factors that have contributed to these patterns. We argue that we must excavate the ideological foundation upon which competition-based coexistence research has been built to move beyond the current perceived "diversity paradox." To that end, we propose shifting the functional null hypothesis of coexistence research, introducing the notion of a "coexistence principle," which positions the persistence of multispecies communities as the rule rather than the exception in nature.
Date made available2022

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