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Ecol Lett. 2008 Nov;11(11):1123-1134. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01237.x. Epub 2008 Sep 4.

Ecological fitting by phenotypically flexible genotypes: implications for species associations, community assembly and evolution.

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Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19014, USA.


Ecological fitting is the process whereby organisms colonize and persist in novel environments, use novel resources or form novel associations with other species as a result of the suites of traits that they carry at the time they encounter the novel condition. This paper has four major aims. First, we review the original concept of ecological fitting and relate it to the concept of exaptation and current ideas on the positive role of phenotypic plasticity in evolution. Second, we propose phenotypic plasticity, correlated trait evolution and phylogenetic conservatism as specific mechanisms behind ecological fitting. Third, we attempt to operationalize the concept of ecological fitting by providing explicit definitions for terms. From these definitions, we propose a simple conceptual model of ecological fitting. Using this model, we demonstrate the differences and similarities between ecological fitting and ecological resource tracking and illustrate the process in the context of species colonizing new areas and forming novel associations with other species. Finally, we discuss how ecological fitting can be both a precursor to evolutionary diversity or maintainer of evolutionary stasis, depending on conditions. We conclude that ecological fitting is an important concept for understanding topics ranging from the assembly of ecological communities and species associations, to biological invasions, to the evolution of biodiversity.

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