Size patterns among competitors: ecological character displacement and character release in mammals, with special reference to island populations

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Abstract

Morphological relationship among sympatric animal species have often been seen as indirect evidence for competition. Many early ecomorphological studies revealed patterns that were taken as indicating character displacement and character release, driven by competition or lack thereof. These patterns may result from a coevolutionary morphological response or from species sorting according to size. Thus, the relationship between morphology and competition may be crucial for understanding both the morphological evolution of animals and the role of competition in structuring communities. Some earlier research perceived as indicating morphological relationships conditioned by interaction of species was conducted on mammals, particularly carnivores. Subsequent criticism in the ecological literature demonstrated that many of the perceived patterns could not be statistically confirmed, thus calling into question this line of evidence for competition. More recent ecological literature relies on strong statistical analyses and careful consideration both of guild composition and of which morphological traits should be examined. This literature, resting largely on mammals, includes several cases that suggest a coevolutionary morphological response to interspecific competition. These studies have focused on the thropic apparatus directly related to food procurement by mammals — the teeth. Island mammals often show striking morphological patterns, some of which have been interpreted as resulting from release from competition with mainland species that have not reached islands. However, few of these patterns were critically evaluated to demonstrate their support for the hypothesis of character release. Despite several decades of interest and research, many questions regarding competitively induced morphological patterns remain unresolved and require further research. Mammals are especially promising subjects for such researh.

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