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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2009 Nov;84(4):617-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00089.x. Epub 2009 Aug 4.

The role of interspecific interference competition in character displacement and the evolution of competitor recognition.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA.


The extent to which interspecific interference competition has contributed to character evolution is one of the most neglected problems in evolutionary biology. When formerly allopatric species come into secondary contact, aggressive interactions between the species can cause selection on traits that affect interspecific encounter rates (e.g. habitat preferences, activity schedules), competitor recognition (e.g. colouration, song), and fighting ability (e.g. weaponry, body size). We define agonistic character displacement (ACD) as the process of phenotypic evolution in a population caused by interference competition with one or more sympatric species and which results in shifts in traits that affect the rate, intensity or outcome of interspecific aggression. After clarifying the relationships between ACD and other evolutionary processes that may occur when species come into secondary contact, we develop an individual-based, quantitative genetic model to examine how traits involved in competitor recognition would be expected to evolve under different secondary contact scenarios. Our simulation results show that both divergence and convergence are possible outcomes, depending on the intensity of interspecific exploitative competition, the costs associated with mutual versus unilateral recognition, and the extent of phenotypic differences prior to secondary contact. We then devise a set of eight criteria for evaluating putative examples of ACD and review the empirical literature to assess the strength of existing evidence and to identify promising avenues for future research. Our literature search revealed 33 putative examples of ACD across insects, fishes, bats, birds, lizards, and amphibians (15 divergence examples; 18 convergence examples). Only one example satisfies all eight criteria for demonstrating ACD, but most case studies satisfy four or more criteria. The current state of the evidence for ACD is similar to the state of the evidence for ecological character displacement just 10 years ago. We conclude by offering suggestions for further theoretical and empirical research on ACD.

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