Niche saturation reveals resource partitioning among consumers


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Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 338–348


More diverse communities of consumers typically use more resources, which often is attributed to resource partitioning. However, experimentally demonstrating this role of resource partitioning in diverse communities has been difficult. We used an experimental response-surface design, varying intra- and interspecific consumer densities, to compare patterns of resource exploitation between simple and diverse communities of aphid predators. With increasing density, each single consumer species rapidly plateaued in its ability to extract more resources. This suggests intraspecific competition for a subset of the resource pool, a hallmark of resource partitioning. In contrast, more diverse-predator communities achieved greater overall resource depletion. By statistically fitting mechanistic models to the data, we demonstrated that resource partitioning rather than facilitation provides the better explanation for the observed differences in resource use between simple and diverse communities. This model-fitting approach also allowed us to quantify overlap in resource use by different consumer species.