Size-dependent mortality and competition interactively shape community diversity.

Research paper by Barbara B Taborsky, Mikko M Heino, Ulf U Dieckmann

Indexed on: 31 Oct '12Published on: 31 Oct '12Published in: Evolution


Body size is recognized as a major factor in evolutionary processes mediating sympatric diversification and community structuring. Life-history types with distinct body sizes can result from two fundamental mechanisms, size-dependent competition and size-dependent mortality. While previous theoretical studies investigated these two processes in separation, the model analyzed here allows both selective forces to affect body-size evolution interactively. Here we show for the first time that in the presence of size-dependent competition, size-dependent mortality can give rise to multiple, coexisting size morphs representing the final outcomes of evolution. Moreover, our results demonstrate that interactions between size-dependent competition and mortality can create characteristic abrupt changes in size structure and nonmonotonic patterns of biological diversity along continuous and monotonic environmental gradients. We find that the two selective forces differentially affect the body-size ratios of coexisting morphs: size-dependent competition results in small and relatively constant ratios, whereas size-dependent mortality can open niches for morphs that greatly differ in body size. We show that these differential effects result in characteristic distributions of size ratios across communities, which we suggest can help detect the concurrent action and relative influence of size-dependent competition and mortality in nature.