AN EXPERIMENTAL TEST OF CHARACTER DISPLACEMENT'S ROLE IN PROMOTING POSTMATING ISOLATION BETWEEN CONSPECIFIC POPULATIONS IN CONTRASTING COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENTS

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Abstract

Ecological character displacement takes place when two closely related species co-occur in only part of their geographical range, and selection to minimize competition between them promotes divergence in resource-use traits in sympatry but not in allopatry. Because populations sympatric with the heterospecific competitor will experience a different competitive environment than conspecific populations in allopatry, conspecific populations from these two competitive environments will also diverge in resource traits as an indirect consequence of interspecific ecological character displacement. Ultimately, ecologically dependent postmating isolation may arise between conspecific populations from these divergent competitive environments if offspring produced by matings between them are competitively inferior in either type of competitive environment. Yet, there are no direct tests of character displacement's role in initiating such postmating isolation. Here, we present a test by comparing the phenotypes and performances of spadefoot toad tadpoles produced from between-competitive-environment (BCE) matings versus those produced from within-competitive-environment (WCE) matings. When raised with naturally occurring competitors, BCE offspring grew significantly less and were significantly smaller than WCE offspring. BCE offspring generally performed worse even when raised alone, suggesting that they may have harbored intrinsic genetic incompatibilities. Moreover, the difference in growth and body size of BCE versus WCE offspring was significantly greater when each was raised with competitors than when each was raised alone, suggesting that BCE tadpoles were competitively inferior to WCE tadpoles. Presumably, this enhanced difference arose because BCE tadpoles produced an intermediate resource-use phenotype that is less well adapted to either competitive environment. Because larval size is under strong, positive, directional selection, reduced growth and size of BCE offspring may diminish gene flow between populations in divergent competitive environments, thereby generating postmating isolation. Thus, postmating isolation between conspecific populations, and possibly even speciation, may arise as a by-product of interactions between species.

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