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Spatial interplay of plant competition and consumer foraging mediate plant coexistence and drive the invasion ratchet.


Indirect effects may play an important role in structuring plant communities. Using a spatially explicit model of consumer foraging and plant competition, we demonstrate how the relationship between the spatial area over which plants compete and the spatial scale of consumer behaviour can determine the outcome of competition when one plant species provides a refuge for mobile consumers (i.e. refuge-mediated apparent competition). Once an initial population of the invader is established, complete invasion may be inevitable because of an ever-advancing invasion front ratchets forward driven by a feeding front of mobile consumers. Because the spatial extent of apparent competition determines the area available for colonization, consumers may also dictate the rate at which an invasion occurs. We find that, as long as refuge-mediated apparent competition is sufficiently localized, invasion is possible even in systems characterized by low overall levels of consumer pressure. Moreover, we show that a stable equilibrium can result in which both resident and invading plants coexist, suggesting that spatial heterogeneity created by refuge-mediated apparent competition may be important in mediating coexistence in plant communities. The spatial interplay of consumer behaviour and plant competition may be an underappreciated mechanism affecting the composition, diversity and spatial pattern of plant communities.

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