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Tucker CM, Fukami T. 2014. Environmental variability counteracts priority effects to facilitate species coexistence: evidence from nectar microbes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281(1778). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2637.
Year Published: 2014

The order of species arrival during community assembly can greatly affect species coexistence, but the strength of these effects, known as priority effects, appears highly variable across species and ecosystems. Furthermore, the causes of this variation remain unclear despite their fundamental importance in understanding species coexistence. Here, we show that one potential cause is environmental variability. In laboratory experiments using nectar-inhabiting microorganisms as a model system, we manipulated spatial and temporal variability of temperature, and examined consequences for priority effects. If species arrived sequentially, multiple species coexisted under variable temperature, but not under constant temperature. Temperature variability prevented extinction of late-arriving species that would have been excluded owing to priority effects if temperature had been constant. By contrast, if species arrived simultaneously, species coexisted under both variable and constant temperatures. We propose possible mechanisms underlying these results using a mathematical model that incorporates contrasting effects of microbial species on nectar pH and amino acids. Overall, our findings suggest that understanding consequences of priority effects for species coexistence requires explicit consideration of environmental variability.  link to publication