Linking metacommunity paradigms to spatial coexistence Mechanisms

Lauren G. Shoemaker, Brett A. Melbourne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Four metacommunity paradigms-usually called neutral, species sorting, mass effects, and patch dynamics, respectively- Are widely used for empirical and theoretical studies of spatial community dynamics. The paradigm framework highlights key ecological mechanisms operating in metacommunities, such as dispersal limitation, competition-colonization tradeoffs, or species equivalencies. However, differences in coexistence mechanisms between the paradigms and in situations with combined influences of multiple paradigms are not well understood. Here, we create a common model for competitive metacommunities, with unique parameterizations for each metacommunity paradigm and for scenarios with multiple paradigms operating simultaneously. We derive analytical expressions for the strength of Chesson's spatial coexistence mechanisms and quantify these for each paradigm via simulation. For our model, fitness-density covariance, a concentration effect measuring the importance of intraspecific aggregation of individuals, is the dominant coexistence mechanism in all three niche-based metacommunity paradigms. Increased dispersal between patches erodes intraspecific aggregation, leading to lower coexistence strength in the mass effects paradigm compared to species sorting. Our analysis demonstrates the potential importance of aggregation of individuals (fitness-density covariance) over co-variation in abiotic environments and competition between species (the storage effect), as fitness-density covariance can be stronger than the storage effect and is the sole stabilizing mechanism in the patch dynamics paradigm. As expected, stable coexistence does not occur in the neutral paradigm, which requires species to be equal and emphasizes the role of stochasticity. We show that stochasticity also plays an important role in niche-structured metacommunities by altering coexistence strength. We conclude that Chesson's spatial coexistence mechanisms provide a flexible framework for comparing metacommunities of varying complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2436-2446
Number of pages11
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
LGS was supported during this work by NSF GRFP-1144083 and IGERT-1144807. BAM was supported by NSF DEB1258160

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the Ecological Society of America.


  • Coexistence
  • Equalizing mechanisms
  • Mass effects
  • Metacommunity paradigms
  • Neutral model
  • Niche
  • Patch dynamics
  • Spatial variation
  • Species sorting
  • Stabilizing mechanisms


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