Authors: Karin Svanfeldt, Keyne Monro, and Dustin J Marshall
Published in: Journal of Animal Ecology, volume 86, issue 3 (May 2017 )
Population density affects individual performance, though its effects are often mixed. For sessile species, increases in population density typically reduce performance. Still, cases of positive density-dependence do occur in sessile systems and demand explanation. The stress gradient hypothesis (SGH) predicts that under stressful conditions, positive effects of facilitation may outweigh the negative effects of competition.
While some elements of the SGH are well studied, its potential to explain intraspecific facilitation has received little attention. Further, there have been questions regarding whether the SGH holds if the stressor is a resource. Most studies of interactions between the environment and intraspecific facilitation have relied on natural environmental gradients; manipulative studies are much rarer.
To test the effects of intraspecific density and resources, we manipulated resource availability over natural population densities for the marine bryozoan Watersipora subtorquata.
We found negative effects of density on colony performance in low resource environments, but mainly positive density-dependence in high resource environments. By adding resources, competition effects were reduced and the positive effects of facilitation were revealed.
Our results suggest that resource availability mediates the relative strength of competition and facilitation in our system. We also suggest that intraspecific facilitation is more common than may be appreciated and that environmental variation may mediate the balance between negative and positive density-dependence.