Zhang, Bo; King-Yeung Lam; Wei-Ming Ni; Rossana Signorelli; Kevin M. Collins; Zhiyuan Fu; Lu Zhai; Yuan Lou; Donald L. DeAngelis; Alan Hastings and Jonathan Chase

Understanding mechanisms of coexistence is a central topic in ecology. Mathematical analysis of models of competition between two identical species moving at different rates of symmetric diffusion in heterogeneous environments show that the slower mover excludes the faster one. The models have not been tested empirically and lack inclusions of a component of directed movement toward favourable areas. To address these gaps, we extended previous theory by explicitly including exploitable resource dynamics and directed movement. We tested the mathematical results experimentally using laboratory populations of the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans. Our results not only support the previous theory that the species diffusing at a slower rate prevails in heterogeneous environments but also reveal that moderate levels of a directed movement component on top of the diffusive movement allow species to coexist. Our results broaden the theory of species coexistence in heterogeneous space and provide empirical confirmation of the mathematical predictions.