Competitive network determines the direction of the diversity–function relationship

Daniel S. Maynard (Corresponding author), Thomas W. Crowther, Mark A. Bradford

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The structure of the competitive network is an important driver of biodiversity and coexistence in natural communities. In addition to determining which species survive, the nature and intensity of competitive interactions within the network also affect the growth, productivity, and abundances of those individuals that persist. As such, the competitive network structure may likewise play an important role in determining community-level functioning by capturing the net costs of competition. Here, using an experimental system comprising 18 wood decay basidiomycete fungi, we test this possibility by quantifying the links among competitive network structure, species diversity, and community function. We show that species diversity alone has negligible impacts on community functioning, but that diversity interacts with two key properties of the competitive network—competitive intransitivity and average competitive ability—to ultimately shape biomass production, respiration, and carbon use efficiency. Most notably, highly intransitive communities comprising weak competitors exhibited a positive diversity–function relationship, whereas weakly intransitive communities comprising strong competitors exhibited a negative relationship. These findings demonstrate that competitive network structure can be an important determinant of community-level functioning, capturing a gradient from weakly to strongly competitive communities. Our research suggests that the competitive network may therefore act as a unifying link between diversity and function, providing key insight as to how and when losses in biodiversity will impact ecosystem function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11464-11469
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2017


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