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Coexistence theory and the frequency-dependence of priority effects


Priority effects are commonly used to describe a broad suite of phenomena capturing the influence of species arrival order on the diversity, composition and function of ecological communities. Several studies have suggested reframing priority effects around the stabilizing and equalizing concepts of coexistence theory. We show that the only compatible priority effects are those characterized by positive frequency-dependence, irrespective of whether they emerge in equilibrium or non-equilibrium systems.

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Fig. 1: Effect of changing the consumption vector of species and the supply ratio of two resources in a consumer–resource model on the fitness ratio and stabilization potential (niche difference) of coexistence theory.
Fig. 2: PFD emerges from endogenously generated resource fluctuations.

Data availability

All simulated data was generated by R language. All code used for this study is available at and upon request from the corresponding author.


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We thank T. Fukami, T. Grainger and D. Stouffer for helpful comments. P.-J.K. was supported by Stanford University and the Studying Abroad Scholarship from the Ministry of Education, Taiwan. A.D.L. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics of Stanford University.

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P.-J.K. and A.D.L. conceived the study, performed the analysis and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Po-Ju Ke or Andrew D. Letten.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Ke, PJ., Letten, A.D. Coexistence theory and the frequency-dependence of priority effects. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1691–1695 (2018).

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