Following up on my appreciation of Peter Abrams, here are some suggested readings from his “back catalog”. My suggestions reflect my own interests and opinions–it’s not a list of his most-cited papers–but I do think they’ll give you a good sense of what Peter Abrams was all about.
This is a longer list than I originally intended, and reading all the papers on this list would be a significant time commitment. So I’ve annotated the list to help you pick and choose.
Abrams, P.A. 1975. Limiting similarity and the form of the competition coefficient. Theoretical Population Biology 8:356-375. Peter’s first critique of the notion that there is a universal limit to how similar coexisting competitors can be, a theme he returned to repeatedly over the years. The overall conclusion of this body of work: yes, there can be limits to similarity–but not necessarily. Further, precisely what the limits are, and how they vary as you vary properties of species and their environment, is highly case-specific.
Abrams, P.A. 1983. The competitive exclusion principle: other views and a reply. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 1:131-132. Not an original research paper; just a comment deftly demolishing a zombie-filled critique of competition theory. And unfortunately, a depressing read because many of the same zombie ideas Peter was ably shredding in 1983 are alive and well today. In particular, note Peter’s critique of the notion that competitive exclusion is more likely among closely related species. Um, no. More closely related species may be more likely to overlap in resource use, which is one prerequisite for competitive exclusion–but they’re also more likely to be similar in competitive ability, making exclusion less likely. It’s not clear, theoretically or empirically, what the net result of those two countervailing effects will be. Mayfield and Levine (2010 Ecology Letters) is a recent major paper making exactly the same point. I have no idea if Peter Abrams feels like this man, but one could certainly forgive him if he does!
Abrams, P. 1984. Variability in resource consumption rates and the coexistence of competing species. Theoretical Population Biology 25:106-124. Relatively little-known paper on competitive coexistence in variable environments, now being followed up by Peter Chesson’s group.
Abrams, P.A. 1987. Alternative models of character displacement and niche shift. I. Adaptive shifts in resource use when there is competition for nutritionally nonsubstitutable resources. Evolution 41:651-661. Think competition always selects for species to use different resources than their competitors? Think again. If the resources for which competition occurs are nutritionally nonsubstitutable (e.g., for plants, there’s no substitute for light, or water, or phosphorus), then competition selects for convergence in resource use. If this idea is right (and it’s never been tested), the implications are potentially massive, since there are lots of species which probably compete for nonsubstitutable resources. A good example of Peter at his best, alerting readers to important, unrecognized possibilities using a very simple, well-motivated theoretical argument. I’ve done some work with Dave Vasseur building on this (Vasseur and Fox 2008).
Abrams, P.A. 1987. On classifying interactions between populations. Oecologia 73:272-281. Defining “competition” is trickier than you might think…
Abrams, P.A. 1988. How should resources be counted? Theoretical Population Biology 33:226-242. Maybe Hutchinson’s “paradox of the plankton” isn’t a paradox after all, and only looks that way because we’re not counting “limiting resources” the way algae count them!
Abrams, P.A. et al. 1993. Evolutionarily unstable fitness maxima and stable fitness minima of continuous traits. Evolutionary Ecology 7:465-487, and Abrams, P.A. et al. 1993. On the relationship between quantitative genetic and ESS models. Evolution 47:982-985. Counts as one selection. Peter Abrams and his collaborators basically invent “adaptive dynamics” and show how it relates to other major approaches for modeling the adaptive evolution of quantitative traits. Very important work.
Abrams, P.A. 1993. Effects of increased productivity on the abundances of trophic levels. American Naturalist 141:351-371. How do “bottom up effects” propagate up food webs? It depends on the food web topology. Still relevant today: Wollrab et al. (2012 Ecology Letters) just published a paper building on it.
Abrams, P.A. 1994. The fallacies of ratio-dependent predation. Ecology 75:1842-1850. Never heard of “ratio-dependent predation”? That’s because this paper pretty much killed off that once-hot idea off before it could become widely established.
Abrams, P.A. 1995. Monotonic or unimodal diversity-productivity gradients: what does competition theory predict? Ecology 76:2019-2027. The next time somebody tries to tell you that humped diversity-productivity relationships are well-established theoretically, tell them to read this review. Bottom line: there are lots of reasons to expect something other than a unimodal relationship, and lots of reasons to expect a unimodal relationship that have nothing to do with competition.
Abrams, P.A. 2002. Will small population size warn us of impending extinctions? American Naturalist 160:293-305. Even very simple models of population dynamics in gradually deteriorating environments turn out to predict surprising extinction dynamics. At least, surprising until Peter Abrams has explained them to you. A nice example of using simple models to replace the reader’s pre-theoretical intuitions with new, improved intuitions.
Abrams, P.A. and Wilson, W.G. 2004. Coexistence of competitors in metacommunities due to spatial variation in resource growth rates: does R* predict the outcome of competition? Ecology Letters 10:929-940. Very neat paper showing a novel mechanism by which dispersal can alter competitive outcomes within patches. Basically, dispersal creates spatial heterogeneity in competitive outcomes that wouldn’t exist otherwise, rather than altering pre-existing spatial heterogeneity in competitive outcomes. I once tried to test this, but didn’t really go about it the right way. Someone should try again, I think it’s pretty doable in microcosms.
Abrams, P.A. 2007. Defining and measuring the impact of dynamic traits on interspecific interactions. Ecology 88:2555-2562. Peter identifies, and resolves, important conceptual confusion in the empirical literature on “trait-mediated effects”. A nice illustration of why theory is essential to the interpretation of empirical data.
Abrams, P.A. 2007. Habitat choice in predator-prey systems: spatial instability due to interacting adaptive movements. American Naturalist 169:581-594. The list wouldn’t be representative if I didn’t include something from Peter’s voluminous work on adaptive behavior and its dynamical consequences.