• Carnivores;
  • character displacement;
  • co-existence;
  • competition;
  • dentition;
  • ecological species sorting;
  • phylogeny


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.