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Am Nat. 2006 Jan;167(1):55-66. Epub 2005 Oct 11.

Alternative designs and the evolution of functional diversity.

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Biology Department, McGill University, 1205 Dr. Penfield Avenue, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada.


According to conventional wisdom, functional diversity is exclusively a consequence of species having evolved adaptations to fill different niches within a heterogeneous environment. This view anticipates only one optimal combination of trait values in a given environment, but it is also conceivable that alternative designs of equal fitness in the same environment might evolve. To investigate that possibility, we use a genetic algorithm to search for optimal combinations of 34 functional traits in a realistic model of tree seedling growth and survival. We show that separate lineages of seedlings evolving in identical environments result in many alternative functional designs of approximately equal fitness.

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