Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 89–96 | Cite as

How Gaussian competition leads to lumpy or uniform species distributions

  • Simone Pigolotti
  • Cristóbal López
  • Emilio Hernández-García
  • Ken H. Andersen
Original paper


A central model in theoretical ecology considers the competition of a range of species for a broad spectrum of resources. Recent studies have shown that essentially two different outcomes are possible. Either the species surviving competition are more or less uniformly distributed over the resource spectrum, or their distribution is “lumped” (or “clumped”), consisting of clusters of species with similar resource use that are separated by gaps in resource space. Which of these outcomes will occur crucially depends on the competition kernel, which reflects the shape of the resource utilization pattern of the competing species. Most models considered in the literature assume a Gaussian competition kernel. This is unfortunate, since predictions based on such a Gaussian assumption are not robust. In fact, Gaussian kernels are a border case scenario, and slight deviations from this function can lead to either uniform or lumped species distributions. Here, we illustrate the non-robustness of the Gaussian assumption by simulating different implementations of the standard competition model with constant carrying capacity. In this scenario, lumped species distributions can come about by secondary ecological or evolutionary mechanisms or by details of the numerical implementation of the model. We analyze the origin of this sensitivity and discuss it in the context of recent applications of the model.


Competitive exclusion Gaussian kernel Clumped distribution Niche model Lotka–Volterra 



C.L. and E.H-G. acknowledge support from project FISICOS (FIS2007-60327) of MEC and FEDER and NEST-Complexity project PATRES (043268). K.H.A was supported by the Danish research council, grant no. 272-07-0485


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone Pigolotti
    • 1
  • Cristóbal López
    • 2
  • Emilio Hernández-García
    • 2
  • Ken H. Andersen
    • 3
  1. 1.The Niels Bohr International Academythe Niels Bohr InstituteCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.IFISCInstituto de Física Interdisciplinar y Sistemas Complejos (CSIC-Univ. de les Illes Balears)Palma de MallorcaSpain
  3. 3.National Institute of Aquatic ResourcesTechnical University of DenmarkCharlottenlundDenmark

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