Although competition is recognized as a core ecological process, its prevalence and importance in coral reef fish communities have been debated. Here we compile and synthesize the results of 173 experimental tests of competition from 72 publications. We show that evidence for competition is pervasive both within and between species, with 72% of intraspecific tests and 56% of interspecific tests demonstrating a demographically significant consequence of competition (e.g., a decrease in recruitment, survival, growth, or fecundity). We highlight several factors that can interact with the effects of competition and make it more difficult to detect in field experiments. In light of this evidence, we discuss the role of competition in shaping coral reef fish communities and competition's status as one of several processes that contribute to species coexistence. Finally, we consider some of the complex ways that climate change may influence competition, and we provide suggestions for future research.


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