Character displacement is a pattern: so, what causes it?


Character displacement was originally defined simply as a pattern – divergence between two species in sympatry but not allopatry – and it was recognized that multiple processes might generate this pattern. However, over time, character displacement has come to be nearly synonymous with the process of adaptive divergence between species caused by selection stemming from resource-competitive interactions (and if not, then from reproductive interactions). This tight link between character displacement and resource competition has generated, and continues to generate, imprecision and confusion in the literature. Here, to address this problem, we suggest unlinking character displacement – the pattern – from any specific process (e.g. natural selection arising from species interactions). That is, character displacement should be documented as a pattern, agnostically with respect to process. Purposeful, direct investigation of what process generated character displacement then naturally follows. This has the benefit of acknowledging that there can be many different avenues to divergence in sympatry.

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