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Orienting the Interaction Compass: Resource Availability as a Major Driver of Context Dependence
Life on earth is enormously diverse, in part because each individual engages in countless interactions with its biotic and abiotic environment during its lifetime. Not only are there many such interactions, but any given interaction of each individual with, say, its neighbor or a nutrient could lead to a different effect on its fitness and on the dynamics of the population of which it is a member. Predicting those effects is an enduring challenge to the field of ecology. Using a simple laboratory system, Hoek and colleagues present evidence that resource availability can be a primary driver of variation between interactions. Their results suggest that a complex continuum of interaction outcomes can result from the simple combined effects of nutrient availability and density-dependent population dynamics. The future is rich with potential to integrate tractable experimental systems like theirs with hypotheses derived from studies of interactions in natural communities.