Community structure, abundance, and morphology

Richard D. Stevens, Michael R. Willig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The role of interspecific competition in structuring communities has been a highly debated issue for the last two decades. The nonrandom nature of morphological patterns within communities has been at the center of this controversy. Null models addressing community-wide dispersions in morphology have produced equivocal results and may be based on assumptions that are too restrictive (e.g., competitive exclusion or displacement). If morphological distinctiveness allows species to escape competitive pressures and exhibit higher densities, then a positive relationship should exist between morphological dissimilarity and abundance. We develop a suite of models that evaluates patterns in abundance that are associated with the morphological proximity of a species to other competitors. We evaluated the relationship between morphological distance and abundance from a variety of morphological perspectives, from those representing strictly diffuse interactions to those representing only interactions between a species and its nearest neighbor in morphological space. These models were sufficiently powerful to detect positive associations between abundance and morphological differences in a nocturnal desert rodent guild for which the effects of competition on structure are well established. Models such as these may be more useful than traditional models evaluating morphological dispersions for many reasons. They do not require that communities reach equilibrium before competitive interactions give rise to deterministic structure. They do not suffer from limitations of potentially inaccurate faunal pools or from phylogenetic constraints. Lastly, they may be used as a diagnostic tool in comparative studies to determine the degree to which competitive interactions structure communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-56
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000


Dive into the research topics of 'Community structure, abundance, and morphology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this