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Concept: Niche differentiation


Body size and metabolic rate both fundamentally constrain how species interact with their environment, and hence ultimately affect their niche. While many mechanisms leading to these constraints have been explored, their effects on the resolution at which temporal information is perceived have been largely overlooked. The visual system acts as a gateway to the dynamic environment and the relative resolution at which organisms are able to acquire and process visual information is likely to restrict their ability to interact with events around them. As both smaller size and higher metabolic rates should facilitate rapid behavioural responses, we hypothesized that these traits would favour perception of temporal change over finer timescales. Using critical flicker fusion frequency, the lowest frequency of flashing at which a flickering light source is perceived as constant, as a measure of the maximum rate of temporal information processing in the visual system, we carried out a phylogenetic comparative analysis of a wide range of vertebrates that supported this hypothesis. Our results have implications for the evolution of signalling systems and predator-prey interactions, and, combined with the strong influence that both body mass and metabolism have on a species' ecological niche, suggest that time perception may constitute an important and overlooked dimension of niche differentiation.

Concepts: Psychology, Evolution, Metabolism, Energy, Organism, Ecology, Information, Niche differentiation


To explain diversity in forests, niche theory must show how multiple plant species coexist while competing for the same resources. Although successional processes are widespread in forests, theoretical work has suggested that differentiation in successional strategy allows only a few species stably to coexist, including only a single shade tolerant. However, this conclusion is based on current niche models, which encode a very simplified view of plant communities, suggesting that the potential for niche differentiation has remained unexplored. Here, we show how extending successional niche models to include features common to all vegetation-height-structured competition for light under a prevailing disturbance regime and two trait-mediated tradeoffs in plant function-enhances the diversity of species that can be maintained, including a diversity of shade tolerants. We identify two distinct axes of potential niche differentiation, corresponding to the traits leaf mass per unit leaf area and height at maturation. The first axis allows for coexistence of different shade tolerances and the second axis for coexistence among species with the same shade tolerance. Addition of this second axis leads to communities with a high diversity of shade tolerants. Niche differentiation along the second axis also generates regions of trait space wherein fitness is almost equalized, an outcome we term “evolutionarily emergent near-neutrality.” For different environmental conditions, our model predicts diverse vegetation types and trait mixtures, akin to observations. These results indicate that the outcomes of successional niche differentiation are richer than previously thought and potentially account for mixtures of traits and species observed in forests worldwide.

Concepts: Scientific method, Evolution, Life, Species, Ecology, Fern, Ecological niche, Niche differentiation


Asexual reproduction is expected to reduce the adaptive potential to novel or changing environmental conditions, restricting or altering the ecological niche of asexual lineages. Asexual lineages of plants and animals are typically polyploid, an attribute that may influence their genetic variation, plasticity, adaptive potential, and niche breadth. The genus Boechera (Brassicaceae) represents an ideal model to test the relative ecological and biogeographic impacts of reproductive mode and ploidy because it is composed of diploid sexual and both diploid and polyploid asexual (i.e., apomictic) lineages. Here, we demonstrate a strong association between a transcriptionally conserved allele and apomictic seed formation. We then use this allele as a proxy apomixis marker in 1,649 accessions to demonstrate that apomixis is likely to be a common feature across the Boechera phylogeny. Phylogeographic analyses of these data demonstrate (i) species-specific niche differentiation in sexuals, (ii) extensive niche conservation between differing reproductive modes of the same species, (iii) ploidy-specific niche differentiation within and among species, and (iv) occasional niche drift between apomicts and their sexual ancestors. We conclude that ploidy is a substantially stronger and more common driver of niche divergence within and across Boechera species although variation in both traits may not necessarily lead to niche evolution on the species scale.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Ecology, Asexual reproduction, Parthenogenesis, Apomixis, Niche differentiation


A fundamental aim of conservation biology is to understand how species respond to threatening processes, with much research effort focused on identifying threats and quantifying spatial and temporal patterns of species decline. Here, we argue that threats often reduce the realized niche breadth of declining species because environmental, biotic, and evolutionary processes reduce or amplify threats, or because a species' capacity to tolerate threats varies across niche space. Our ‘niche reduction hypothesis’ provides a new lens for understanding why species decline in some locations and not others. This perspective can improve management of declining species by identifying where to focus resources and which interventions are most likely to be effective in a given environment.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Biology, Species, Ecology, Knowledge, Niche differentiation


Differential resource use allows a diversity of species to co-exist in a particular area by specializing in individual ecological niches. Four-horned antelope Tetracerus quadricornis is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and has a restricted distribution in Nepal and India; however, the barking deer Muntiacus vaginalis is relatively common throughout its wide distribution range. We wanted a better understanding of their habitats and how these two similarly sized solitary ungulates manage to coexist in lowland Nepal. We used fecal pellet belt transect surveys in the Babai valley, Bardia National Park to study the habitat associations of both species. We found empirical evidence that four-horned antelope prefer hill sal forest and deciduous hill forest at higher elevations, whereas barking deer preferred riverine and sal forest in lower elevations. We found a clear niche differentiation of four-horned antelope and barking deer that made the coexistence of these similarly sized solitary ungulates possible. Hence, resource partitioning is the key to coexistence of these solitary ungulates, and the fine-grained habitat mosaic of different forest types in the study landscape appears to be the underlying feature. Therefore, maintaining the habitat mosaic and preserving valuable hill sal and deciduous hill forests will facilitate the coexistence of herbivores in sub-tropical regions.

Concepts: Ecology, Deer, Habitats, Ecological niche, Bovinae, Antelope, Niche differentiation, Four-horned Antelope


Partitioning of ecological niche is expected in lekking species that show marked sexual size dimorphism as a consequence of sex-specific ecological constraints. However, niche partitioning is uncertain in species with moderate sexual dimorphism. In addition, the ecological niche of a species may also be affected by landscape composition; particularly, agricultural fragmentation may greatly influence the trophic behavior of herbivores. We studied trophic niche variation in Greater Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido), a grouse species that shows moderate sex-dimorphism. Greater Prairie-Chickens are native to tallgrass prairies of North America, although populations persist in less natural mosaics of cropland and native habitats. We used stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen in blood, claws and feathers to assess seasonal differences in trophic niche breadth and individual specialization between male and female Greater Prairie-Chickens, and between birds living in continuous and fragmented landscapes. We found that females showed broader niches and higher individual specialization than males, especially in winter and autumn. However, differences between females and males were smaller in spring when birds converge at leks, suggesting that females and males may exhibit similar feeding behaviors during the lekking period. In addition, we found that birds living in native prairies showed greater annual trophic variability than conspecifics in agricultural mosaic landscapes. Native habitats may provide greater dietary diversity, resulting in greater diversity of feeding strategies.

Concepts: Human, Male, Ecology, Sexual dimorphism, Gender, Sex, Grouse, Niche differentiation


Fundamental to competitive displacement in biological invasion is that exotic species occupy the ecological niches of native species in novel environments. Contrasting outcomes of competitive displacement have occurred between Liriomyza trifolii and L. sativae in different geographical regions following their introduction. Various factors have been advanced in an attempt to explain these different competitive outcomes, although none of these explanations have addressed the effects of niche differences. We conducted field cage experiments to compare the feeding and habitat niches of the two leafminer species and their primary parasitoid, Opius biroi, when occurring together on kidney bean. A wider spatiotemporal niche breadth was found in L. trifolii (0.3670) than in L. sativae (0.3496). With respect to the parasitoid, the proportional niche similarity between L. sativae and the parasitoid was 0.3936 but only 0.0835 for L. trifolii, while similar results were found for niche overlap, indicating that stronger trailing behaviour and parasitic effects of O. biroi occurred in L. sativae. In conclusion, L. trifolii has outperformed L. sativae in occupying the ecological niche and is superior to L. sativae in avoiding parasitization by the pupal parasitoid, O. biroi.

Concepts: Ecology, Parasitism, Difference, Invasive species, Ecological niche, Biogeography, Charles Sutherland Elton, Niche differentiation


Niche theory suggests that sympatric species reduce interspecific competition through segregation of shared resources by adopting different attack manoeuvres. However, the fact that flycatcher-like bird species exclusively use the sally manoeuvre may thus challenge this view. We studied the foraging ecology of three flycatcher-like species (i.e. Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone sp., Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea, and Rufous-winged Philentoma Philentoma pyrhoptera) in the Krau Wildlife Reserve in central Peninsular Malaysia. We investigated foraging preferences of each bird species and the potential niche partitioning via spatial or behavioural segregation. Foraging substrate was important parameter that effectively divided paradise-flycatcher from Black-naped Monarch and Rufous-winged Philentoma, where monarch and philentoma foraged mainly on live green leaves, while paradise-flycatcher foraged on the air. They also exhibited different foraging height preferences. Paradise-flycatcher, for instance, preferred the highest studied strata, while Black-naped Monarch foraged mostly in lower strata, and Rufous-winged Philentoma made use of the lowest strata. This study indicates that niche segregation occurs among sympatric species through foraging substrate and attack manoeuvres selection.

Concepts: Ecology, Ecological niche, Niche differentiation, Birds of Bangladesh, Black-naped Monarch, Hypothymis, Pale-blue Monarch, Rufous-winged Philentoma


The extent to which interspecific niche differences structure plant communities is highly debated, with extreme viewpoints ranging from fine-scaled niche partitioning, where every species in the community is specialized to a distinct niche, to neutrality, where species have no niche or fitness differences. However, there exists a default position wherein niches of species in a community are determined by their evolutionary and biogeographic histories, irrespective of other species within the community. According to this viewpoint, a broad range of pair-wise niche overlaps - from completely overlapping to completely distinct - are expected in any community without the need to invoke interspecific interactions. We develop a method that can test for both habitat associations and niche differences along an arbitrary number of spatial and temporal niche dimensions and apply it to a 24-year data set of the eight dominant woody-plant species (representing 84% and 76% of total community abundance and basal area, respectively) from a 50-ha permanent plot in a southern Indian tropical dry forest, using edaphic, topographic and precipitation variables as niche axes. Species separated into two broad groups in niche space - one consisting of three canopy species and the other of a canopy species and four understory species - along axes that corresponded mainly to variation in soil P, Al and a topographic index of wetness. Species within groups tended to have significantly greater niche overlap than expected by chance. Community-wide niche overlap in spatial and temporal niche axes was never smaller than expected by chance. Species-habitat associations were neither necessary nor sufficient preconditions for niche differences to be present. Our results suggest that this tropical dry-forest community consists of several tree species with broadly overlapping niches, and where significant niche differences do exist, they are not readily interpretable as evidence for niche differentiation. We argue, based on a survey of the literature, that many of the observed niche differences in tropical forests are more parsimoniously viewed as autecological differences between species that exist independently of interspecific interactions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Interspecific competition, Forest, Biome, Copyright, Ecological niche, Niche differentiation


The Peruvian Andes presents a climate suitable for many species of sandfly that are known vectors of leishmaniasis or bartonellosis, including Lutzomyia peruensis (Diptera: Psychodidae), among others. In the present study, occurrences data for Lu. peruensis were compiled from several items in the scientific literature from Peru published between 1927 and 2015. Based on these data, ecological niche models were constructed to predict spatial distributions using three algorithms [Support vector machine (SVM), the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction (GARP) and Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt)]. In addition, the environmental requirements of Lu. peruensis and three niche characteristics were modelled in the context of future climate change scenarios: (a) potential changes in niche breadth; (b) shifts in the direction and magnitude of niche centroids, and © shifts in elevation range. The model identified areas that included environments suitable for Lu. peruensis in most regions of Peru (45.77%) and an average altitude of 3289 m a.s.l. Under climate change scenarios, a decrease in the distribution areas of Lu. peruensis was observed for all representative concentration pathways. However, the centroid of the species' ecological niche showed a northwest direction in all climate change scenarios. The information generated in this study may help health authorities responsible for the supervision of strategies to control leishmaniasis to coordinate, plan and implement appropriate strategies for each area of risk, taking into account the geographic distribution and potential dispersal of Lu. peruensis.

Concepts: Algorithm, Support vector machine, Andes, Phlebotominae, Charles Sutherland Elton, Peru, Phlebotomus, Niche differentiation