Recruitment facilitation can promote coexistence and buffer population growth in metacommunities



Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 1201–1210


Although positive species interactions are ubiquitous in nature, theory has generally focused on the role of negative interactions to explain patterns of species diversity. Here, we incorporate recruitment facilitation, a positive interaction prevalent in marine and terrestrial systems, into a metacommunity framework to assess how the interplay between colonisation, competition and facilitation mediates coexistence. We show that when subordinate species facilitate the recruitment of dominant species, multi-species metacommunities can persist stably even if the colonisation rate of the dominant species is greater than that of the subordinate species. In addition, recruitment facilitation can buffer population growth from changes in colonisation rates, and thus explain the paradoxical mismatch between patterns of abundance and recruitment in marine systems. Overall, our results demonstrate that recruitment facilitation can have profound effects on the assembly, dissolution and regulation of metacommunities by mediating the relative influence of local and regional processes on population abundance and species diversity.