The importance of analyzing neighbor competitive response in the target–neighbor experimental design

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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences




The role of competition in community structure and species interactions is universal. However, how one quantifies the outcome of competitive interactions is frequently debated. Here, we review the strengths and weaknesses of the target–neighbor design, a type of additive design where one of the competing species is reduced to a single individual and where controls and analyses are used for the target, but not for the neighbors. We conducted a literature review to determine how the target–neighbor design has been typically used and analyzed. We found that historically, targets were often smaller than neighbors and introduced after neighbor establishment; thus, targets would have little effect on neighbors. However, as co‐establishment of targets and neighbors of similar size is now common, the target is more likely to affect the neighbors than in its earlier usage. This can be problematic, because if targets have a significant effect on neighbor performance, bias is introduced into the assessment of the target results. As target treatment controls are necessary to determine the absolute effect of neighbors on target growth, we advocate that analysis of the neighbor competitive response serves as a necessary control for unexpected target x neighbor interactions.

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Barry, K. J., & Dudash, M. R. (2015). The importance of analyzing neighbor competitive response in the target-neighbor experimental design. Ecology and Evolution, 5(22), 5265–5271. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.1689

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