1. Spatial dynamics can lead to coexistence of competing species even with strong asymmetric competition under the assumption that the inferior competitor is a better colonizer given equal rates of extinction. Patterns of habitat fragmentation may alter competitive coexistence under this assumption.
2. Numerical models were developed to test for the previously ignored effect of population size on competitive exclusion and on extinction rates for coexistence of competing species. These models neglect spatial arrangement.
3. Cellular automata were developed to test the effect of population size on competitive coexistence of two species, given that the inferior competitor is a better colonizer. The cellular automata in the present study were stochastic in that they were based upon colonization and extinction probabilities rather than deterministic rules.
4. The effect of population size on competitive exclusion at the local scale was found to have little consequence for the coexistence of competitors at the metapopulation (or landscape) scale. In contrast, population size effects on extinction at the local scale led to much reduced landscape scale coexistence compared to simulations not including localized population size effects on extinction, especially in the cellular automata models. Spatially explicit dynamics of the cellular automata vs. deterministic rates of the numerical model resulted in decreased survival of both species. One important finding is that superior competitors that are widespread can become extinct before less common inferior competitors because of limited colonization.
5. These results suggest that population size–extinction relationships may play a large role in competitive coexistence. These results and differences are used in a model structure to help reconcile previous spatially explicit studies which provided apparently different results concerning coexistence of competing species.