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Niche lability in the evolution of a Caribbean lizard community


Niche conservatism—the tendency for closely related species to be ecologically similar—is widespread1,2,3. However, most studies compare closely related taxa that occur in allopatry3; in sympatry, the stabilizing forces that promote niche conservatism4,5, and thus inhibit niche shifts, may be countered by natural selection favouring ecological divergence to minimize the intensity of interspecific interactions6,7. Consequently, the relative importance of niche conservatism versus niche divergence in determining community structure has received little attention7. Here, we examine a tropical lizard community in which species have a long evolutionary history of ecological interaction. We find that evolutionary divergence overcomes niche conservatism: closely related species are no more ecologically similar than expected by random divergence and some distantly related species are ecologically similar, leading to a community in which the relationship between ecological similarity and phylogenetic relatedness is very weak. Despite this lack of niche conservatism, the ecological structuring of the community has a phylogenetic component: niche complementarity only occurs among distantly related species, which suggests that the strength of ecological interactions among species may be related to phylogeny, but it is not necessarily the most closely related species that interact most strongly.

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Figure 1: Phylogenetic relationships of the 11 anole species at Soroa.
Figure 2: Dispersion of species in multivariate ecological space.


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We thank J. Chase, R. Ricklefs and T. Schoener for comments, and V. Rivalta González, A. Daniel Alvarez, and A. Torres Barboza for assistance in the field. We thank the National Geographic Society, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Science Foundation and Barnard College for support.

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Correspondence to Jonathan B. Losos.

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Losos, J., Leal, M., Glor, R. et al. Niche lability in the evolution of a Caribbean lizard community. Nature 424, 542–545 (2003).

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