The competitive exclusion principle (CEP) states that no equilibrium is possible if n species exploit fewer than n resources. This principle does not appear to hold in nature, where high biodiversity is commonly observed, even in seemingly homogenous habitats. Although various mechanisms, such as spatial heterogeneity or chaotic fluctuations, have been proposed to explain this coexistence, none of them invalidates this principle. Here we evaluate whether principles of ecological stoichiometry can contribute to the stable maintenance of biodiverse communities. Stoichiometric analysis recognizes that each organism is a mixture of multiple chemical elements such as carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) that are present in various proportions in organisms. We incorporate these principles into a standard predator-prey model to analyze competition between two predators on one autotrophic prey. The model tracks two essential elements, C and P, in each species. We show that a stable equilibrium is possible with two predators on this single prey. At this equilibrium both predators can be limited by the P content of the prey. The analysis suggests that chemical heterogeneity within and among species provides new mechanisms that can support species coexistence and that may be important in maintaining biodiversity.
- C:P ratio
- Food quality
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics