Consequences of spatial patterns for coexistence in species-rich plant communities
Ecology cannot yet fully explain why so many tree species coexist in natural communities such as tropical forests. A major difficulty is linking individual-level processes to community dynamics. We propose a combination of tree spatial data, spatial statistics and dynamical theory to reveal the relationship between spatial patterns and population-level interaction coefficients and their consequences for multispecies dynamics and coexistence. Here we show that the emerging population-level interaction coefficients have, for a broad range of circumstances, a simpler structure than their individual-level counterparts, which allows for an analytical treatment of equilibrium and stability conditions. Mechanisms such as animal seed dispersal, which result in clustering of recruits that is decoupled from parent locations, lead to a rare-species advantage and coexistence of otherwise neutral competitors. Linking spatial statistics with theories of community dynamics offers new avenues for explaining species coexistence and calls for rethinking community ecology through a spatial lens.