Does density-dependent diversification mirror ecological competitive exclusion?

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Abstract

Density-dependence is a term used in ecology to describe processes such as birth and death rates that are regulated by the number of individuals in a population. Evolutionary biologists have borrowed the term to describe decreasing rates of species accumulation, suggesting that speciation and extinction rates depend on the total number of species in a clade. If this analogy with ecological density-dependence holds, diversification of clades is restricted because species compete for limited resources. We hypothesize that such competition should not only affect numbers of species, but also prevent species from being phenotypically similar. Here, we present a method to detect whether competitive interactions between species have ordered phenotypic traits on a phylogeny, assuming that competition prevents related species from having identical trait values. We use the method to analyze clades of birds and mammals, with body size as the phenotypic trait. We find no sign that competition has prevented species from having the same body size. Thus, since body size is a key ecological trait and competition does not seem to be responsible for differences in body size between species, we conclude that the diversification slowdown that is prevalent in these clades is unlikely due to the ecological interference implied by the term density dependence.

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Monroe, M. J., & Bokma, F. (2017). Does density-dependent diversification mirror ecological competitive exclusion? PLoS ONE, 12(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184814

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