The maintenance of species diversity

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How to explain the wide diversity of species we see in nature is one of the central challenges in all of ecology. Which factors prevent the single best competitor or best handful of competitors from displacing all other species from communities?

Over the last decade, our work has explored individual mechanisms of species coexistence, including for example, temporal storage effects, where species coexist by specializing on different types of climate years. We have also explored the collective importance of species’ niche differences for coexistence, challenging “neutral” explanations for species diversity maintenance.

Ongoing work in this area asks how plant functional traits and phylogeny can be used to predict species’ niche differences and competitive ability. We are also exploring how intraspecific variation influences competitive outcomes via its effects on demography, community drift, and evolution. More specifically, we are evaluating the potential for rapid evolutionary changes in competing populations to influence coexistence. In the broadest sense, we are interested in the factors regulating the outcome of competition, including mechanisms that range from plant-nutrient to plant-pathogen interactions.

Key publications

Levine, J.M., J. Bascompte, P.B. Adler, and S. Allesina. 2017.
Beyond pairwise mechanisms of coexistence in complex communities. Nature 546:56-64.

Saavedra, S., R.R. Rohr, J. Bascompte, O. Godoy, N.J.B. Kraft, and J.M. Levine. 2017.
A structural approach for understanding multispecies coexistence. Ecological Monographs

Kraft, N.J.B., O. Godoy, and J.M. Levine. 2015
Plant functional traits and the multidimensional nature of species coexistence.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112:797-802.

Godoy, O., N.J.B. Kraft, and J.M. Levine. 2014.
Phylogenetic relatedness and the determinants of competitive outcomes.
Ecology Letters 17:836-844.

Allesina, S. and J.M. Levine. 2011.
A competitive network theory of species diversity.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:5638-5642.

Mayfield, M.M. and J.M. Levine. 2010.
Opposing effects of competitive exclusion on the phylogenetic structure of communities.
Ecology Letters 13:1085-1093.

Levine, J.M. and J. HilleRisLambers. 2009.
The importance of niches for the maintenance of species diversity.
Nature 461:254-257.

Adler, P.B., J. HilleRisLambers, and J.M. Levine. 2007.
A niche for neutrality.
Ecology Letters 10:95-104.

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