Ecological and community-wide character displacement: the next generation


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Ecological character displacement, mostly seen as increased differences of size in sympatry between closely-related or similar species, is a focal hypothesis assuming that species too similar to one another could not coexist without diverging, owing to interspecific competition. Thus, ecological character displacement and community-wide character displacement (overdispersion in size of potential competitors within ecological guilds) were at the heart of the debate regarding the role of competition in structuring ecological communities. The debate has focused on the evidence presented in earlier studies and generated a new generation of rigorous, critical studies of communities. Character displacement research in the past two decades provides sound statistical support for the hypothesis in a wide variety of taxa, albeit with a phylogenetically skewed representation. A growing number of studies are strongly based in functional morphology, and some also demonstrate actual morphologically related resource partitioning. Phylogenetic models and experimental work have added to the scope and depth of earlier research, as have theoretical studies. However, many challenging ecological and evolutionary issues, regarding both selective forces (at the inter- and intraspecific level) and resultant patterns, remain to be addressed. Ecological character displacement and community-wide character displacement are here to stay as the focus of much exciting research.