Background: Closely related, ecologically similar species often have adjacent distributions, suggesting competitive exclusion may contribute to the structure of some natural communities. In systems such as island archipelagos, where speciation is often tightly associated with dispersal over oceanic barriers, competitive exclusion may prevent population establishment following inter-island dispersal and subsequent cladogenesis.
Methodology/Principal Findings: Using a combination of tools, we test the hypothesis that the distributions of shrew (Crocidura) species in the Philippines are the result of competitive exclusion preventing secondary invasion of occupied islands. We first compare ecological niche models between two widespread, allopatric species and find statistical support for their ecological similarity, implying that competition for habitat between these species is possible. We then examine dispersion patterns among sympatric species and find some signal for overdispersion of body size, but not for phylogenetic branch length. Finally, we simulate the process of inter-island colonization under a stochastic model of dispersal lacking ecological forces. Results are dependent on the geographic scope and colonization probability employed. However, some combinations suggest that the number of inter-island dispersal events necessary to populate the archipelago may be much higher than the minimum number of colonization events necessary to explain current estimates of species richness and phylogenetic relationships. If our model is appropriate, these results imply that alternative factors, such as competitive exclusion, may have influenced the process of inter-island colonization and subsequent cladogenesis.
Conclusions/Significance: We interpret the combined results as providing tenuous evidence that similarity in body size may prevent co-occurrence in Philippine shrews and that competitive exclusion among ecologically similar species, rather than an inability to disperse among islands, may have limited diversification in this group, and, possibly other clades endemic to island archipelagos.
© 2011 The authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Esselstyn, Jacob A., Sean P. Maher, and Rafe M. Brown. "Species interactions during diversification and community assembly in an island radiation of shrews." PLoS One 6, no. 7 (2011): e21885.