Our Current Understanding of Commensalism

Kaitlyn A. Mathis, Judith L. Bronstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Commensalisms, interactions between two species in which one species benefits and the other experiences no net effect, are frequently mentioned in the ecological literature but are surprisingly little studied. Here we review and synthesize our limited understanding of commensalism. We then argue that commensalism is not a single type of interaction; rather, it is a suite of phenomena associated with distinct ecological processes and evolutionary consequences. For each form of commensalism we define, we present evidence for how, where, and why it occurs, including when it is evolutionarily persistent and when it is an occasional outcome of interactions that are usually mutualistic or antagonistic. We argue that commensalism should be of great interest in the study of species interactions due to its location at the center of the continuum between positive and negative outcomes. Finally, we offer a roadmap for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-189
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 2 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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