D’Andrea R, Ostling AM, O’Dwyer JP

Traits can provide a window into the mechanisms that maintain coexistence among competing species. Recent theory suggests that competitive interactions will lead to groups, or clusters, of species with similar traits. However, theoretical predictions typically assume complete knowledge of the map between competition and measured traits. These assumptions limit the plausible application of these patterns for inferring competitive interactions in nature. Here, we relax these restrictions and find that the clustering pattern is robust to contributions of unknown or unobserved niche axes. However, it may not be visible unless measured traits are close proxies for niche strategies. We conclude that patterns along single niche axes may reveal properties of interspecific competition in nature, but detecting these patterns requires natural history expertise firmly tying traits to niches.