Spatial dynamics of keystone predation


*Correspondence author. E-mail:


  • 1I investigated the effects of dispersal on communities of keystone predators and prey. I obtained two key results.
  • 2First, a strong trade-off between competitive ability and predator susceptibility allows consumer coexistence over a large resource productivity range, but it also lowers the predator-susceptible superior competitor's abundance and increases its risk of extinction. Thus, unexpectedly, dispersal plays a more important role in coexistence when predator-mediated coexistence is strong rather than weak. The interplay between the trade-off, small population sizes resulting from transient oscillations, and dispersal leads to qualitatively different species distributions depending on the relative mobilities of the consumers and predator. These differences yield comparative predictions that can be tested with data on trade-off strength, dispersal rates, and species distributions across productivity gradients.
  • 3Second, there is an asymmetry between species in their dispersal effects: the predator-resistant inferior competitor's dispersal has a large effect, but the predator-susceptible superior competitor's dispersal has no effect, on coexistence and species’ distributions. The inferior competitor's dispersal also mediates the predator's dispersal effects: the predator's dispersal has no effect when the inferior competitor is immobile, and a large effect when it is mobile. The net outcome of the direct and indirect effects of the inferior competitor's dispersal is a qualitative change in the species’ distributions from interspecific segregation to interspecific aggregation.
  • 4The important point is that differences between species in how they balance resource acquisition and predator avoidance can lead to unexpected differences in their dispersal effects. While consumer coexistence in the absence of dispersal is driven largely by the top predator, consumer coexistence in the presence of dispersal is driven largely by the predator-resistant inferior competitor.