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Competition–colonization trade-offs in a ciliate model community

By Romana Limberger and Stephen A. Wickham


There is considerable theoretical evidence that a trade-off between competitive and colonization ability enables species coexistence. However, empirical studies testing for the presence of a competition–colonization (CC) trade-off and its importance for species coexistence have found mixed results. In a microcosm experiment, we looked for a CC trade-off in a community of six benthic ciliate species. For each species, we measured the time needed to actively disperse to and colonize an empty microcosm. By measuring dispersal rates and growth rates of the species, we were able to differentiate between these two important components of colonization ability. Competitive ability was investigated by comparing species’ growth with or without a competitor in all pairwise species combinations. Species significantly differed in their colonization abilities, with good colonizers having either high growth rates or high dispersal rates or both. Although species showed a clear competitive hierarchy, competitive and colonization ability were uncorrelated. The weakest competitors were also the weakest colonizers, and the strongest competitor was an intermediate colonizer. However, some of the inferior competitors had higher colonization abilities than the strongest competitor, indicating that a CC trade-off may enable coexistence for a subset of the species. Absence of a community-wide CC trade-off may be based on the lack of strong relationships between the traits underlying competitive and colonization ability. We show that temporal effects and differential resource use are alternative mechanisms of coexistence for the species that were both slow colonizers and poor competitors

Topics: Community ecology - Original Paper
Publisher: Springer-Verlag
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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