Competitive exclusion, coexistence and community structure

Acta Biotheoretica 37 (3-4) (1988)
Studies of coexistence are based ultimately on the assumption that competitive exclusion is a general and accredited phenomenon in nature. However, the ecological and evolutionary impact of interspecific competition is of questionable significance. Review of three reputed examples of competitive exclusion in the field (Aphytis wasps, red and grey squirrels, and triclads) demonstrates that the widely-accepted competition-based interpretations are unlikely, that alternative explanations are overlooked, and that all other reported cases need critical reinvestigation. Although interspecific competition does undoubtedly occur, the evidence suggests it is usually too weak and intermittent a force to achieve competitive exclusion or any other ecologically-significant result, except perhaps rarely and on a minor scale. Coexistence and community structure are therefore not ecological conditions to be especially accounted for, especially since their inherently comparative methods generate information that is largely superficial. Alternative questions that relate directly to species, the units of diversity, are discussed and they emphasize the primary habitat requirements of species, which are fixed during speciation. Neither the comparative approach of coexistence studies, nor the investigation of pattern is likely to be profitable, since the acquisition of species-specific characteristics during speciation requires historical research. At least one alternative theory of ecology, based on the close adaptation of organisms to the environment, is available.
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