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Evolution. 2004 Dec;58(12):2599-612.

Evolution of niche width and adaptive diversification.

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Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, California 92093, USA.


Theoretical models suggest that resource competition can lead to the adaptive splitting of consumer populations into diverging lineages, that is, to adaptive diversification. In general, diversification is likely if consumers use only a narrow range of resources and thus have a small niche width. Here we use analytical and numerical methods to study the consequences for diversification if the niche width itself evolves. We found that the evolutionary outcome depends on the inherent costs or benefits of widening the niche. If widening the niche did not have costs in terms of overall resource uptake, then the consumer evolved a niche that was wide enough for disruptive selection on the niche position to vanish; adaptive diversification was no longer observed. However, if widening the niche was costly, then the niche widths remained relatively narrow, allowing for adaptive diversification in niche position. Adaptive diversification and speciation resulting from competition for a broadly distributed resource is thus likely if the niche width is fixed and relatively narrow or free to evolve but subject to costs. These results refine the conditions for adaptive diversification due to competition and formulate them in a way that might be more amenable for experimental investigations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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