The view that interspecific competition plays a central and powerful role in the shaping of communities was first fostered by the competitive exclusion principle (see Chapter 8) which says that if two or more species compete for the same limiting resource, then all but one of them will be driven to extinction. More sophisticated variants of the principle, namely the concepts of limiting similarity, optimum similarity and niche packing (see Chapter 8), have suggested a limit to the similarity of competing species, and thus, a limit to the number of species that can be fitted into a particular community before niche space is fully saturated. Within this theoretical framework, interspecific competition is obviously important, because it excludes particular species from some communities, and determines precisely which species coexist in others. The crucial question, however, is: 'how important are such theoretical effects in the real world?'
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