Coexistence of many species under a random competition-colonization trade-off


The competition–colonization (CC) trade-off is a well-studied coexistence mechanism for metacommunities. In this setting, it is believed that the coexistence of all species requires their traits to satisfy restrictive conditions limiting their similarity. To investigate whether diverse metacommunities can assemble in a CC trade-off model, we study their assembly from a probabilistic perspective. From a pool of species with parameters (corresponding to traits) sampled at random, we compute the probability that any number of species coexist and characterize the set of species that emerges through assembly. Remarkably, almost exactly half of the species in a large pool typically coexist, with no saturation as the size of the pool grows, and with little dependence on the underlying distribution of traits. Through a mix of analytical results and simulations, we show that this unlimited niche packing emerges as assembly actively moves communities toward overdispersed configurations in niche space. Our findings also apply to a realistic assembly scenario where species invade one at a time from a fixed regional pool. When diversity arises de novo in the metacommunity, richness still grows without bound, but more slowly. Together, our results suggest that the CC trade-off can support the robust emergence of diverse communities, even when coexistence of the full species pool is exceedingly unlikely.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America