Refuge-mediated apparent competition in plant–consumer interactions


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At the intersection of consumer behaviour and plant competition is the concept of refuge-mediated apparent competition: an indirect interaction whereby plants provide a refuge for a shared consumer, subsequently increasing consumer pressure on another plant species. Here, we use a simple model and empirical examples to develop and illustrate the concept of refuge-mediated apparent competition. We find that the likelihood that an inferior competitor will succeed via refuge-mediated apparent competition is greater when competitors have similar resource requirements and when consumers exhibit a strong response to the refuge and high attack rates on the superior competitor. Refuge-mediated apparent competition may create an emergent Allee effect, such that a species invades only if it is sufficiently abundant to alter consumer impact on resident species. This indirect interaction may help explain unresolved patterns observed in biological invasion, such as the different physical structure of invasive exotic plants, the lag phase, and the failure of restoration efforts. Given the ubiquity of refuge-seeking behaviour by consumers and the ability of consumers to alter the outcome of direct competition among plants, refuge-mediated apparent competition may be an underappreciated mechanism affecting the composition and diversity of plant communities.

Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 11–20