Species co-occurrence: the case of congeneric species and a causal approach to patterns of species association


*Correspondence: S. Sfenthourakis, Section of Animal Biology, Department of Biology, University of Patras, University Campus, GR-26500 Patras, Greece. Tel./fax: +302610 969268; E-mail: sfendo@upatras.gr


Aim  To test whether congeneric species are significantly associated with one another in space, either positively or negatively. Also, to provide a framework for a causal investigation of co-occurrence patterns by a parallel comparison of interactions in geographical and ecological data matrices.

Location  For the analysis of congeneric species’ co-occurrences we used 30 matrices covering a wide range of taxa and geographical areas, while for the causal investigation we used the distribution of 50 terrestrial isopod species on 20 islands and 264 sampling stations in the central Aegean archipelago, as well as a number of ecological variables for each sampling station.

Methods  We developed a software program (cooc) that incorporates the species-by-species approach to co-occurrence analysis using EcoSim's output of prior null model analysis of co-occurrence. We describe this program in detail, and use it to investigate one of the most common assembly rules, namely, the decreased levels of co-occurrence among congeneric species pairs. For the causal analysis, we proceed likewise, cross-checking the results from the geographical and the ecological matrices. There is only one possible combination of results that can support claims for direct competition among species.

Results  We do not get any strong evidence for widespread competition among congeneric species, while most communities investigated do not show significant patterns of species associations. The causal analysis suggests that the principal factors behind terrestrial isopod species associations are of historical nature. Some exceptional cases are also discussed.

Main conclusions  Presence/absence data for a variety of taxa do not support the assembly rule that congeneric species are under more intense competition compared to less related species. Also, these same data do not suggest strong interactions among species pairs, regardless of taxonomic status. When significant species associations can be seen in such matrices, they mainly reflect the effects of history or of habitat requirements.