“Eco-evolutionary buffering: rapid evolution facilitates regional species coexistence despite local priority effects”

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Meike J. Wittmann and Tadashi Fukami (June 2018)

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New hypothesis and model for coexistence in metacommunities with priority effects: eco-evolutionary buffering


Inhibitory priority effects, in which early-arriving species exclude competing species from local communities, are thought to enhance regional species diversity via community divergence. Theory suggests, however, that these same priority effects make it difficult for species to coexist in the region unless individuals are continuously supplied from an external species pool, often an unrealistic assumption. Here we develop an eco-evolutionary hypothesis to solve this conundrum. We build a metacommunity model in which local priority effects occur between two species via interspecific interference. Within each species there are two genotypes: one is more resistant to interspecific interference than the other, but pays a fitness cost for its resistance. Because of this trade-off, species evolve to become less resistant as they become regionally more common. Rare species can then invade some local patches and consequently recover in regional frequency. This “eco-evolutionary buffering” enables the regional coexistence of species despite local priority effects, even in the absence of immigration from an external species pool. Our model predicts that eco-evolutionary buffering is particularly effective when local communities are small and connected by infrequent dispersal.