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Journal Articles Ecological monographs Year : 2021

From competition to facilitation and mutualism: a general theory of the niche


Niche Theory is a central framework in ecology based on the recognition that most interactions between organisms are indirect, mediated by the biotic and abiotic dynamical environment these organisms live in. Despite its potential generality, the theory still mostly focuses on how resource-consumer dynamics mediate competition in ecological communities. However, it is being increasingly recognized that positive interactions between organisms also play an important role in driving the structure and functioning of ecological communities, from plants to microbes. In this paper, we present a unified theory of the niche that applies to both positive and negative interactions between organisms, mediated by one or two environmental factors. We show that classical concepts such as niche differences and fundamental and realized niches can naturally be expanded to facilitative and mutualistic interactions. In addition, we introduce and formalize new general niche concepts that appear exclusively in the presence of positive interactions: (1) the Allee niche, a region of environmental conditions for which a species can persist but not invade from low densities and (2) niche facilitation, when the presence of a species expands the set of environmental conditions under which a second species can invade and/or persist. To show the broad applicability of this theory, we illustrate these concepts using a diverse set of theoretical examples, from bacteria feeding on an inhibiting substrate, to nitrogen-fixing plants and the indirect mutualism between a plant and a carnivore species. In sum, our work shows how Niche Theory provides a natural framework for positive interactions in ecology, bringing a unified perspective and new conceptual tools to study ecological systems where these positive interactions occur.
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hal-03282294 , version 1 (09-07-2021)



Thomas Koffel, Tanguy Daufresne, Christopher Klausmeier. From competition to facilitation and mutualism: a general theory of the niche. Ecological monographs, 2021, 91 (3), ⟨10.1002/ecm.1458⟩. ⟨hal-03282294⟩
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