The advantage of being slow: the quasi-neutral contact process

According to the competitive exclusion principle, in a finite ecosystem, extinction occurs naturally when two or more species compete for the same resources. An important question that arises is: when coexistence is not possible, which mechanisms confer an advantage to a given species against the other(s)? In general, it is expected that the species with the higher reproductive/death ratio will win the competition, but other mechanisms, such as asymmetry in interspecific competition or unequal diffusion rates, have been found to change this scenario dramatically. In this work, we examine competitive advantage in the context of quasi-neutral population models, including stochastic models with spatial structure as well as macroscopic (mean-field) descriptions. We employ a two-species contact process in which the “biological clock” of one species is a factor of α slower than that of the other species. Our results provide new insights into how stochasticity and competition interact to determine extinction in finite spatial systems. We find that a species with a slower biological clock has an advantage if resources are limited, winning the competition against a species with a faster clock, in relatively small systems. Periodic or stochastic environmental variations also favor the slower species, even in much larger systems.


The advantage of being slow: the quasi-neutral contact process
Marcelo Martins de Oliveira, Ronald Dickman