Why equalising trade-offs aren’t always neutral


*E-mail: lindsayt@uwinst.uzh.ch


Equalising trade-offs, such as seed mass vs. number, have been invoked to reconcile neutral theory with observed differences between species. This is an appealing explanation for the dramatic seed size variation seen within guilds of otherwise similar plants: under size-symmetric competition, where resource capture is proportional to mass, the outcome of competition should be insensitive to whether species produce many small seeds or few large ones. However, under this assumption, stochastic variation in seed rain leads to exclusion of all but the smallest-seeded species. Thus stochasticity in seed arrivals, a process that was previously thought to generate drift, instead results in deterministic competitive exclusion. A neutral outcome is possible under one special case of a more general equalising framework, where seed mass affects survival but not competition. Further exploration of the feasibility of neutral trade-offs is needed to understand the respective roles of neutrality and niche structure in community dynamics.