Density-dependent interspecific interactions and the complexity–stability relationship

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Ever since May theorized that communities with larger numbers of species or interspecific interactions are inherently unstable, the mechanism allowing for the stable existence of complex communities in nature has been a central question in ecology. The main efforts to answer this question have sought to identify non-random features of ecological systems that can reverse a negative complexity–stability relationship into a positive one, but are far from successful, especially in their generality. Here, using the traditional community matrix analysis, we show that variation in the density dependence of interspecific interactions, which should be ubiquitous in nature, can dramatically affect the complexity–stability relationship. More specifically, we reveal that a positive complexity–stability relationship arises when harmful interspecific effects have larger density dependence than beneficial ones, regardless of the signs (i.e. positive or negative) of their dependence. Furthermore, numerical simulations demonstrated the synergistic stabilizing effect of interaction type diversity and density-dependence variation. Thus, this concept of density-dependence variation advances our understanding of the complexity–stability relationship in the real world.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180698
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1879
Publication statusPublished - 2018 May 16


  • Coexistence
  • Competition
  • Food-web
  • Functional response
  • Interaction-type diversity
  • Mutualism


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