Species coexistence in resource-limited patterned ecosystems is facilitated by the interplay of spatial self-organisation and intraspecific competition

L. Eigentler (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
160 Downloads (Pure)


The exploration of mechanisms that enable species coexistence under competition for a sole limiting resource is widespread across ecology. Two examples of such facilitative processes are intraspecific competition and spatial self-organisation. These processes determine the outcome of competitive dynamics in many resource-limited patterned ecosystems, classical examples of which include dryland vegetation patterns, intertidal mussel beds and subalpine ribbon forests. Previous theoretical investigations have explained coexistence within patterned ecosystems by making strong assumptions on the differences between species (e.g. contrasting dispersal behaviours or different functional responses to resource availability). In this paper, I show that the interplay between the detrimental effects of intraspecific competition and the facilitative nature of self-organisation forms a coexistence mechanism that does not rely on species-specific assumptions and captures coexistence across a wide range of the environmental stress gradient. I use a theoretical model that captures the interactions of two generic consumer species with an explicitly modelled resource to show that coexistence relies on a balance between species' colonisation abilities and their local competitiveness, provided intraspecific competition is sufficiently strong. Crucially, the requirements on species' self-limitation for coexistence to occur differ on opposite ends of the resource input spectrum. For low resource levels, coexistence is facilitated by strong intraspecific dynamics of the species superior in its colonisation abilities, but for larger volumes of resource input, strong intraspecific competition of the locally superior species enables coexistence. Results presented in this paper also highlight the importance of hysteresis in understanding tipping points, in particular extinction events. Finally, the theoretical framework provides insights into spatial species distributions within single patches, supporting verbal hypotheses on coexistence of herbaceous and woody species in dryland vegetation patterns and suggesting potential empirical tests in the context of other patterned ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-623
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Early online date12 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • banded vegetation
  • competition and coexistence
  • numerical continuation
  • pattern formation
  • periodic travelling waves
  • scale-dependent feedback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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