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Data from: Accurate predictions of coexistence in natural systems require the inclusion of facilitative interactions and environmental dependency

Cite this dataset

Bimler, Malyon D.; Stouffer, Daniel B.; Lai, Hao Ran; Mayfield, Margaret M. (2019). Data from: Accurate predictions of coexistence in natural systems require the inclusion of facilitative interactions and environmental dependency [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Coexistence between plant species is well known to depend on the outcomes of species interactions within an environmental context. The incorporation of environmental variation into empirical studies of coexistence are rare, however, due to the complex experiments needed to do so and the lack of feasible modelling approaches for determining how environmental factors alter specific coexistence mechanisms. 2. In this paper, we present a simple modelling framework for assessing how variation in species interactions across environmental gradients impact on niche overlap and fitness differences, two core determinants of coexistence. We use a novel formulation of an annual plant population dynamics model that allows for competitive and facilitative species interactions, and for variation in the strength and direction of these interactions across environmental gradients. Using this framework, we examine outcomes of plant-plant interactions between four commonly co-occurring annual plant species from Western Australian woodlands. We then determine how niche overlap and fitness differences between these species vary across three environmental gradients previously identified as important for structuring diversity patterns in this system: soil phosphorus, shade and water. 3. We found facilitation to be a wide-spread phenomenon and that interactions between most species pairs shift between competitive and facilitative across multiple environmental gradients. Environmental conditions also altered the strength, direction and relative variation of both niche overlap and fitness differences in non-linear and unpredictable ways. Synthesis We provide a simple framework for incorporating environmental heterogeneity into explorations of coexistence mechanisms. Our findings highlight the importance of the environment in determining the outcome of species interactions and the potential for pairwise coexistence between species. The prevalence of facilitation in our system indicates a need to improve current theoretical frameworks of coexistence to include non-competitive interactions, and ways of translating these effects into explicit predictions of coexistence. Our study also suggests a need for further research into determining which factors result in consistent responses of niche overlap and fitness differences to environmental variation. Such information will improve our ability to predict outcomes of coexistence, invasion events and responses of whole communities to future environmental change.

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SW Western Australia