Multitrait successional forest dynamics enable diverse competitive coexistence

To explain diversity in forests, niche theory must show how multiple plant species coexist while competing for the same resources. Although successional processes are widespread in forests, theoretical work has suggested that differentiation in successional strategy allows only a few species stably to coexist, including only a single shade tolerant. However, this conclusion is based on current niche models, which encode a very simplified view of plant communities, suggesting that the potential for niche differentiation has remained unexplored. Here, we show how extending successional niche models to include features common to all vegetation—height-structured competition for light under a prevailing disturbance regime and two trait-mediated tradeoffs in plant function—enhances the diversity of species that can be maintained, including a diversity of shade tolerants.

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