Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 61–71 | Cite as

Intra-specific variability and the competition–colonisation trade-off: coexistence, abundance and stability patterns

  • Benoit Courbaud
  • Ghislain Vieilledent
  • Georges Kunstler
Original paper


Intra-specific variability often produces an overlap between species distributions of individual performances which can influence competition relations and community dynamics. We analysed a two-species competition–colonisation model of vegetation with intra-specific variability in juvenile growth. On each patch colonised by both species, the winner was the juvenile with higher individual growth. Intra-specific variability disproportionately favoured the more fecund species because the tail of its distribution represented more individuals. In some cases, this process could even lead to a reversal of competition hierarchy and exclusion of the species with higher mean juvenile performance. In the space of species 2 mean growth and fecundity traits, the combinations of traits allowing coexistence with species 1 appeared close to an ideal trade-off curve. Along this curve, species 2 and species 1 coexisted at similar abundance. The balance of relative abundances diminished with the distance of species 2 from this curve. For a given level of relative species performances, coexistence stability increased continuously as species differentiation increased. In contrast to classical models that exhibit abrupt changes of equilibrium community properties when species traits vary, our model displayed continuous changes of these properties in relation to the balance of life traits within and among species. Intra-specific variability allows flexible patterns of community dynamics and could explain discrepancies between observations and classical theories.


Biodiversity Patch occupancy model Limiting similarity Niche partitioning Life history traits Neutral theory Competition Colonisation trade-off 



We warmly thank PT Stancioiu for providing data and J Clark, S McMahon, J Metcalf, E Moran and J Chave for discussions on these ideas.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benoit Courbaud
    • 1
  • Ghislain Vieilledent
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Georges Kunstler
    • 1
  1. 1.CEMAGREF–Mountain Ecosystems Research UnitSaint-Martin-d’Hères cedexFrance
  2. 2.Cirad, UR105 Forest Ecosystem Goods and Services, Cirad, TA C-105/D, Campus International de BaillarguetMontpellier Cedex 5France
  3. 3.Cirad-Madagascar, DRP Forêt et BiodiversitéAmbatobeMadagascar
  4. 4.AgroParisTech, UMR1092, Laboratoire d’Etude des Ressources Forêt BoisNancyFrance

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