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Positive interactions among competitors can produce species-rich communities


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Although positive interactions between species are well documented, most ecological theory for investigating multispecies coexistence remains rooted in antagonistic interactions such as competition and predation. Standard resource-competition models from this theory predict that the number of coexisting species should not exceed the number of factors that limit population growth. Here I show that positive interactions among resource competitors can produce species-rich model communities supported by a single limiting resource. Simulations show that when resource competitors reduce each others’ per capita mortality rate (e.g. by ameliorating an abiotic stress), stable multispecies coexistence with a single resource may be common, even while the net interspecific interaction remains negative. These results demonstrate that positive interactions may provide an important mechanism for generating species-rich communities in nature. They also show that focusing on the net interaction between species may conceal important coexistence mechanisms when species simultaneously engage in both antagonistic and positive interactions.

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