Intransitive competition is widespread in plant communities and maintains their species richness

Santiago Soliveres*, Fernando T. Maestre, Werner Ulrich, Peter Manning, Steffen Boch, Matthew A. Bowker, Daniel Prati, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, José L. Quero, Ingo Schöning, Antonio Gallardo, Wolfgang Weisser, Jörg Müller, Stephanie A. Socher, Miguel García-Gómez, Victoria Ochoa, Ernst Detlef Schulze, Markus Fischer, Eric Allan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


Intransitive competition networks, those in which there is no single best competitor, may ensure species coexistence. However, their frequency and importance in maintaining diversity in real-world ecosystems remain unclear. We used two large data sets from drylands and agricultural grasslands to assess: (1) the generality of intransitive competition, (2) intransitivity-richness relationships and (3) effects of two major drivers of biodiversity loss (aridity and land-use intensification) on intransitivity and species richness. Intransitive competition occurred in > 65% of sites and was associated with higher species richness. Intransitivity increased with aridity, partly buffering its negative effects on diversity, but was decreased by intensive land use, enhancing its negative effects on diversity. These contrasting responses likely arise because intransitivity is promoted by temporal heterogeneity, which is enhanced by aridity but may decline with land-use intensity. We show that intransitivity is widespread in nature and increases diversity, but it can be lost with environmental homogenisation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)790-798
Number of pages9
JournalEcology letters
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2015


  • Aridity
  • Biodiversity
  • Coexistence
  • Drylands
  • Land use
  • Mesic grasslands
  • Rock-paper-scissors game

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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