On the distinction between niche and competitive ability: Implications for coexistence theory

Acta Biotheoretica 33 (2) (1984)
Abstract
The meaning of niche and competitive ability have long been surrounded by controversy. The reason for this stems from the obscure relationship that exists between these terms. This extends from the views of Darwin through Eltonian tradition to current views in which the meaning of competitive ability is implicitly infused into the paradigm of niche. Distinct operational definitions for niche and competitive ability are therefore established with special reference to plants. It is proposed that potential niche refer explicitly to a theoretical hyperspace of places where a species would leave descendents if all biotic interactions were precluded, and that competitive ability refer to the relative capacity to leave descendents in a particular place in the face of restrictions imposed by competitive interaction. This leads to a qualitative comprehensive theory for coexistence which may be extended to any type of biotic interaction. Niche and competitive ability are both determined by the biological attributes of a species and may be independently adjusted in a population by natural selection in contexts of competition. Species coexistence in nature may therefore be a consequence of alternative evolutionary mechanisms which may operate to various degrees in concert: (1) natural selection leading to niche differentiation; (2) an ongoing process of reciprocal selection (coevolution) which maintains an approximate balance in relative competitive abilities for contested resources
Keywords niche  competitive ability
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