Intransitive competition and its effects on community functional diversity
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Can competitive interactions be inferred from the analysis of community functional diversity patterns? Originally, at the scale of a community, competitive interactions were supposed to generate trait overdispersion patterns due to limiting similarity process. More recently, by highlighting the importance of competitive hierarchies, it has been shown that when only one resource limits species coexistence, competition can also lead to patterns of trait clustering. However, these two expectations (overdispersion and clustering) ignore potential multi-species indirect competitive interactions, and especially intransitive competition. Indeed, little is yet known about intransitive competition and its influence on community’s functional diversity. Here I propose a brief appraisal of empirical evidence for intransitive competition in nature, and an overview of the current understanding of this mechanism and its properties. I then demonstrate with a theoretical model that intransitive competitive interactions can actually generate random-like functional diversity patterns. The variety of diversity patterns (overdispersion, clustering, randomness) that can emerge from diverse types of competitive interactions makes it difficult to identify the presence of competition in nature, potentially leading to an underestimation of its importance as a structuring force. New methodologies able to capture both simple and complex competition mechanisms are thus urgently needed.