Different measures of niche and fitness differences tell different tales

Jurg Spaak, Po-Ju Ke, Andrew Letten, Frederik De Laender

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In modern coexistence theory, species coexistence can either arise via strong niche differences or weak fitness differences. Having a common currency for interpreting these mechanisms is essential for synthesizing knowledge across different studies and systems. However, several methods for quantifying niche and fitness differences exist, with little guidance on how and why these methods differ. Here, we first organize the available methods into three groups and review their differences from a conceptual point of view. Next, we apply four methods to quantify niche and fitness differences to one simulated and one empirical data set. We show that these methods do not only differ quantitatively, but affect how we interpret coexistence. Specifically, the different methods disagree on how resource supply rates (simulated data) or plant traits (empirical data) affect niche and fitness differences. We argue for a better theoretical understanding of what connects and sets apart different methods and more precise empirical measurements to foster appropriate method selection in coexistence theory.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere09573
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • annual plant model
  • coexistence
  • fitness differences
  • niche differences
  • resource competition


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