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Nature. 2001 Mar 22;410(6827):463-6.

Intraspecific competition favours niche width expansion in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis 95616, USA.


Ecologists have proposed that when interspecific competition is reduced, competition within a species becomes a potent evolutionary force leading to rapid diversification. This view reflects the observation that populations invading species-poor communities frequently evolve broader niches. Niche expansion can be associated with an increase in phenotypic variance (known as character release), with the evolution of polymorphisms, or with divergence into many species using distinct resources (adaptive radiation). The relationship between intraspecific competition and diversification is known from theory, and has been used as the foundation for some models of speciation. However, there has been little empirical proof that niches evolve in response to intraspecific competition. To test this hypothesis, I introduced cadmium-intolerant Drosophila melanogaster populations to environments containing both cadmium-free and cadmium-laced resources. Here I show that populations experiencing high competition adapted to cadmium more rapidly than low competition populations. This provides experimental confirmation that competition in a population can drive niche expansion onto new resources for which competition is less severe.

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