Niche Partitioning Increases Resource Exploitation by Diverse Communities

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Science  12 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5895, pp. 1488-1490
DOI: 10.1126/science.1160854

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Classical ecological theory suggests that the coexistence of consumer species is fostered by resource-use differences, leading to greater resource use in communities with more species. However, explicit empirical support for this idea is lacking, because resource use by species is generally confounded with other species-specific attributes. We overcame this obstacle by co-opting behavioral plasticity in food choice among a group of animal consumers, allowing us to manipulate patterns of resource use while controlling for the effects of species identity and diversity. Within an aphid-parasitoid-radish community, we created a fully factorial manipulation of consumer resource-use breadth (specialist versus generalist) and species diversity (one versus three species) and found that resource exploitation improved with greater specialist, but not generalist, diversity. Therefore, resource partitioning, and not diversity per se, fostered greater overall resource consumption in our multispecies consumer communities.

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