Species co-existence and character divergence across carnivores

Authors

  • T. Jonathan Davies,

    1. Department of Biology, Gilmer Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Present address: Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.

  • Shai Meiri,

    1. Division of Biology and NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Timothy G. Barraclough,

    1. Division of Biology and NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK
    2. Molecular Systematics Section, Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew TW9 3DS, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • John L. Gittleman

    1. Department of Biology, Gilmer Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Present address: Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.


E-mail: jdavies@virginia.edu

Abstract

Co-occurring species might be morphologically similar because they are adapted to the same environment, or morphologically dissimilar to minimize competition. We use sister species comparisons to evaluate the relationship between morphological disparity and regional patterns of co-occurrence across carnivores. Up to 63% of the variation in range overlap can be explained by morphological divergence in dentition. Species that differ more in carnassial tooth length overlap more in their geographical range. Carnassials are the primary teeth associated with food processing, and hence difference in carnassial size may be a good indicator of difference in resource use. We suggest this pattern is consistent with competition in sympatry driving ecological character displacement, or competitive exclusion among ecologically similar species. Our study uses newly available data on global distributions, morphology and phylogeny, and is the first to demonstrate a close relationship between morphological disparity and co-occurrence at a regional scale encompassing multiple communities.

Ancillary