Positive interactions can produce species-rich communities and increase species turnover through time

Youshi Wang, M. D.Farnon Ellwood, Fernando T. Maestre, Zhiyong Yang, Gang Wang, Chengjin Chu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Aims: The process of facilitation, where a species increases the survival, growth, and fitness of another species, is becoming increasingly recognized as a critical factor in shaping the structure of plant communities. This process is particularly important in stressful environments. Yet few studies have attempted to incorporate positive interactions into community ecological theories such as the neutral theory of biodiversity. Here, we use an equalizing trade-off model as a foundation to study the potential impact of facilitation on species richness and community temporal turnover. Methods: Based on a spatially explicit birth-death trade-off model, we assume that the occurrence of facilitation is dependent on the presence of interspecific neighbours. We further propose that the realized birth rate for a given individual subject to facilitation is proportional to the number of interspecific neighbours within its neighbourhood. Thus, in our model, the individuals of rare species will benefit more from the existence of heterospecific individuals than common species. Important Findings: As the facilitative coefficient increased, the species richness for simulated communities at the dynamically stochastic equilibrium was also increasing. Simulations also demonstrated that facilitation could increase the replacement of species through time: communities with facilitation become more dissimilar (i.e. have smaller Bray-Curtis similarity values) than communities without or with a lower degree of facilitation after the same time interval. Facilitation from interspecific neighbours on rare species increased their population sizes and consequently made them less prone to extinction, thus enhancing species richness. Meanwhile, in a saturated community, with the increase of species richness, mean population size of entire communities decreased, making species more prone to extinction on average, and thus increased the community temporal turnover. Our results suggest that future experimental work on the effect of facilitation on community-level properties should focus not just on species richness but also on other descriptors of community dynamics such as the temporal species turnover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-421
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Plant Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Bray-Curtis similarity index
  • Positive interactions
  • Species coexistence
  • Species temporal turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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