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SignificanceExplaining why there are more species than limiting resources in natural systems constitutes a long-standing challenge among ecologists. Recently, this apparent paradox was resolved theoretically by showing that species can coexist in clumps along niche gradients. However, models demonstrating this effect have failed to account for a ubiquitous feature of nature, namely variability in environmental conditions. This leaves open the question of whether the proposed mechanisms underpinning “lumpy coexistence” apply in nature or arise as a coincidence of modeling frameworks. Here, we demonstrate the emergence of lumpy coexistence in assemblages self-organizing under fluctuating resource supplies. We show that clumps form predictably as the result of the dynamic pattern in ambient resources driven by the most competitive species in the assemblage.
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