Body size is a major phenotypic trait of individuals that commonly differentiates co-occurring species. We analyzed inter-specific competitive interactions between a large consumer and smaller competitors, whose energetics, selection and giving-up behaviour on identical resource patches scaled with individual body size. The aim was to investigate whether pure metabolic constraints on patch behaviour of vagile species can determine coexistence conditions consistent with existing theoretical and experimental evidence. We used an individual-based spatially explicit simulation model at a spatial scale defined by the home range of the large consumer, which was assumed to be parthenogenic and semelparous. Under exploitative conditions, competitive coexistence occurred in a range of body size ratios between 2 and 10. Asymmetrical competition and the mechanism underlying asymmetry, determined by the scaling of energetics and patch behaviour with consumer body size, were the proximate determinant of inter-specific coexistence. The small consumer exploited patches more efficiently, but searched for profitable patches less effectively than the larger competitor. Therefore, body-size related constraints induced niche partitioning, allowing competitive coexistence within a set of conditions where the large consumer maintained control over the small consumer and resource dynamics. The model summarises and extends the existing evidence of species coexistence on a limiting resource, and provides a mechanistic explanation for decoding the size-abundance distribution patterns commonly observed at guild and community levels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics