The order and timing of species immigration during community assembly can affect species abundances at multiple spatial scales. Known as priority effects, these effects cause historical contingency in the structure and function of communities, resulting in alternative stable states, alternative transient states, or compositional cycles. The mechanisms of priority effects fall into two categories, niche preemption and niche modification, and the conditions for historical contingency by priority effects can be organized into two groups, those regarding regional species pool properties and those regarding local population dynamics. Specifically, two requirements must be satisfied for historical contingency to occur: The regional pool contains species that can together cause priority effects, and local dynamics are rapid enough for early-arriving species to preempt or modify niches before other species arrive. Organizing current knowledge this way reveals an outstanding key question: How are regional species pools that yield priority effects generated and maintained?


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