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Reconciling niche and neutrality: the continuum hypothesis

Authors

  • Dominique Gravel,

    Corresponding author
    1. Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Forestière Interuniversitaire (GREFi), Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-Ville, Montreal, QC, Canada H3C 3P8
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  • Charles D. Canham,

    1. Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Box AB, Millbrook, NY 12545, USA
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  • Marilou Beaudet,

    1. Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Forestière Interuniversitaire (GREFi), Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-Ville, Montreal, QC, Canada H3C 3P8
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  • Christian Messier

    1. Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Forestière Interuniversitaire (GREFi), Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-Ville, Montreal, QC, Canada H3C 3P8
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E-mail: domgravl@globetrotter.net

Abstract

In this study, we ask if instead of being fundamentally opposed, niche and neutral theories could simply be located at the extremes of a continuum. First, we present a model of recruitment probabilities that combines both niche and neutral processes. From this model, we predict and test whether the relative importance of niche vs. neutral processes in controlling community dynamics will vary depending on community species richness, niche overlap and dispersal capabilities of species (both local and long distance). Results demonstrate that niche and neutrality form ends of a continuum from competitive to stochastic exclusion. In the absence of immigration, competitive exclusion tends to create a regular spacing of niches. However, immigration prevents the establishment of a limiting similarity. The equilibrium community consists of a set of complementary and redundant species, with their abundance determined, respectively, by the distribution of environmental conditions and the amount of immigration.

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