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Ecology. 2007 Oct;88(10):2449-54.

Spatial arrangement of competitors influences coexistence of reef-building corals.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19716, USA.


Spatial aggregation among strong competitors has been identified as a putative mechanism promoting the coexistence of weak competitors in intensely competitive communities. With notable exceptions in plant communities, few investigators have tested this hypothesis experimentally. In this study, we manipulated the spatial arrangement of corals to test whether within-patch aggregation of a strong coral competitor enhances the success of a weaker coral competitor. Corals grown in simple aggregated arrangements, where the number and type of competitors were held constant, grew almost twice as much as those in non-aggregated arrangements. These growth results suggest that species coexistence is promoted by aggregation within competitive neighborhoods. Thus spatial aggregation may be one of several important mechanisms contributing to the persistence of weak competitors and species coexistence on coral reefs.

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