Ecologists and evolutionary biologists have long been interested in the role of interspecific competition in the diversification of clades. These studies often focus on a single taxonomic group, making the implicit assumption that important competitive interactions occur only between closely related taxa, despite abundant documentation of intense competition between species that are distantly related. Specifically, this assumption ignores convergence of distantly related competitors on limiting niche axes and thus may miss cryptic effects of distantly related competitors on the evolution of focal clades. For example, distantly related competitors may act as important drivers of niche conservatism within clades, a pattern commonly ascribed to evolutionary constraints or the abiotic environment. Here we propose an alternative model of how niche similarity evolves when the functional traits of interest are mediated by unrelated phenotypic traits, as is often the case for distantly related competitors. This model represents an important conceptual step towards a more accurate, taxonomically inclusive understanding of the role that competition plays in the micro- and macroevolution of interacting species.
- character displacement
- community ecology