Unveiling the transition from niche to dispersal assembly in ecology

Lynette H. L. Loke*, Ryan A. Chisholm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


A central goal in ecology is to understand what maintains species diversity in local communities. Classic ecological theory1,2 posits that niches dictate the maximum number of species that can coexist in a community and that the richness of observed species will be below this maximum only where immigration is very low. A new alternative theory3,4 is that niches, instead, dictate the minimum number of coexisting species and that the richness of observed species will usually be well above this because of ongoing immigration. We conducted an experimental test to discriminate between these two unified theories using a manipulative field experiment with tropical intertidal communities. We found, consistent with the new theory, that the relationship of species richness to immigration rate stabilized at a low value at low immigration rates and did not saturate at high immigration rates. Our results suggest that tropical intertidal communities have low niche diversity and are typically in a dispersal-assembled regime where immigration is high enough to overfill the niches. Observational data from other studies3,5 suggest that these conclusions may generalize to other ecological systems. Our new experimental approach can be adapted for other systems and be used as a ‘niche detector’ and a tool for assessing when communities are niche versus dispersal assembled.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-542
Number of pages10
Issue number7965
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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