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Oecologia. 2005 Nov;146(1):25-35. Epub 2005 Oct 22.

Testing alternative explanations of character shifts against ecological character displacement in brook sticklebacks (Culaea inconstans) that coexist with ninespine sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius).

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Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, BC, Burnaby, V5A 1S6, Canada.


Ecological character displacement (ECD) provides opportunities to test how resource competition generates diversifying selection that results in adaptive divergence. We quantify an association between phenotypic and ecological divergence between two similar small fishes, brook (Culaea inconstans) and ninespine (Pungitius pungitius) sticklebacks, in replicate northern Ontario lakes, Canada. The two species partition resources and habitat, where they coexist, and brooks that coexist with ninespines are more benthically specialized in body form and diet than brooks from local allopatric populations. Here we test various explanations for this pattern. Chance is unlikely to have been the primary cause because divergence is replicated in three separate populations. Preliminary comparisons indicate that resource availability and a variety of abiotic ecological conditions are generally similar between sympatric and allopatric sites, and so do not readily account for the divergence. Biased colonization or extinction is less likely to account for the divergence because character values in sympatry tend to exceed those in allopatry, as expected if they have repeatedly evolved under diversifying selection. Recent studies have also demonstrated that these two species compete, and that competitive effects are more severe for allopatric compared to sympatric brook forms, as predicted if divergence reflects the ghost of competition past. Ongoing studies indicate heritable variation in this system. Our results suggest that even small amounts of character shifts can influence competition and hence relative fitness, further implicating a role for ECD in the evolution of biodiversity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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