Cancer Community Ecology

Burt P. Kotler, Joel S. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Here we advocate Cancer Community Ecology as a valuable focus of study in Cancer Biology. We hypothesize that the heterogeneity and characteristics of cancer cells within tumors should vary systematically in space and time and that cancer cells form local ecological communities within tumors. These communities possess limited numbers of species determined by local conditions, with each species in a community possessing predictable traits that enable them to cope with their particular environment and coexist with each other. We start with a discussion of concepts and assumptions that ecologists use to study closely related species. We then discuss the competitive exclusion principle as a means for knowing when two species should not coexist, and as an opening towards understanding how they can. We present the five major categories of mechanisms of coexistence that operate in nature and suggest that the same mechanisms apply towards understanding the diversification and coexistence of cancer cell species. They are: Food-Safety Tradeoffs, Diet Choice, Habitat Selection, Variance Partitioning, and Competition-Colonization Tradeoffs. For each mechanism, we discuss how it works in nature, how it might work in cancers, and its implications for therapy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCancer Control
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • cancer cell types
  • cancer community ecology
  • environmental heterogeneity
  • evolutionary tradeoffs
  • mechanisms of species coexistence
  • niche axis
  • tumor heterogeneity
  • tumor heterogeneity
  • tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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