Miller, T.M., E.R. Moran, C.P. terHorst. 2014

Miller, T.M., E.R. Moran, and C.P. terHorst. 2014. Rethinking niche evolution: Experiments with natural communities of protozoa in pitcher plants. American Naturalist 184: 277-283.

Media Summary

Abstract:  Classic niche theory predicts that competing species will evolve to use different resources and interact less, whereas recent niche-converge ideas predict that species evolve to use similar resources and interact more. Most data supporting niche evolution are based on observations of contemporary niche use, whereas experimental support is quite sparse. We followed the evolution of four species of Protozoa during succession in the water-filled leaves of the pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, and found that evolution in multispecies systems follows a surprising pattern. Over several hundred generations, weak competitors evolved to be stronger, while strong competitors evolved to become weaker, which does not conform to expectations of either niche divergence or convergence. Evolution in this system appears to occur in response to characteristics of a suite of several competitors in the community, rather than pairwise interactions. Ecologists may need to rethink the roles of competition and evolution in structuring communities.

Keywords: Competition, Niche Convergence, Niche Divergence, Microbial Communities, Community Structure

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