Dispersal and recruitment limitation contribute differently to community assembly

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AimsThe neutral theory of biodiversity has been criticized for being fragile with even slight deviations from its basic assumption of equal fitness among species. In response to this criticism, Hubbell ((2001) The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press) proposed that competitive exclusion can be infinitely delayed by dispersal and recruitment limitation, thus making species effectively neutral. But the theoretical foundation for this claim still remains unclear and controversial, and the effects of dispersal and recruitment limitation are often confounded, especially in field studies. This study aims to provide an affirmative theoretical answer to the question of whether dispersal limitation and recruitment limitation can separately or jointly overwhelm the effects of fitness differences among species and lead to neutral community dynamics.MethodsComputer simulations were used to investigate the effects of dispersal and recruitment limitation on delaying competitive exclusion in a homogeneous habitat in a spatially explicit context.Important FindingsWe found that even a slight competitive asymmetry would require extremely strong dispersal and recruitment limitation for neutrality to emerge. Most importantly, when the effects of dispersal and recruitment limitation were set apart, it is found that recruitment limitation is more effective in delaying competitive exclusion, whereas dispersal limitation tends to have a stronger impact on the general shape of both species abundance distributions and species–area relationships.

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