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Ecology. 2008 Jul;89(7):2033-42.

Mass effects mediate coexistence in competing shrews.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Recent developments in metacommunity theory have raised awareness that processes occurring at regional scales might interfere with local dynamics and affect conditions for the local coexistence of competing species. Four main paradigms are recognized in this context (namely, neutral, patch-dynamics, species-sorting, and mass-effect), which differ according to the role assigned to ecological or life-history differences among competing species, as well as to the relative time scale of regional vs. local dynamics. We investigated the patterns of regional and local coexistence of two species of shrews (Crocidura russula and Sorex coronatus) sharing a similar diet (generalist insectivores) over four generations, in a spatially structured habitat at the altitudinal limit of their distributions. Local populations were small, and regional dynamics were strong, with high rates of extinction and recolonization. Niche analysis revealed significant habitat differentiation on a few important variables, including temperature and availability of winter resting sites. In sites suitable for both species, we found instances of local coexistence with no evidence of competitive exclusion. Patterns of temporal succession did not differ from random, with no suggestion of a colonization-competition trade-off. Altogether, our data provide support for the mass-effect paradigm, where regional coexistence is mediated by specialization on different habitat types, and local coexistence by rescue effects from source sites. The strong regional dynamics and demographic stochasticity, together with high dispersal rates, presumably contributed to mass effects by overriding local differences in specific competitive abilities.

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