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Character displacement

W. L. Brown, E. O. Wilson



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It is the purpose of the present paper to discuss a seldom-recognized and poorly known speciation phenomenon that we consider to be of potential major significance in animal systematics. This condition, which we have come to call "character displacement," may be roughly described as follows. Two closely related species have overlapping ranges. In the parts of the ranges where one species occurs alone, the populations of that species are similar to the other species and may even be very difficult to distinguish from it. In the area of overlap, where the two species occur together, the populations are more divergent and easily distinguished, i.e., they "displace" one another in one or more characters. The characters involved can be morphological, ecological, behavioral, or physiological; they are assumed to be genetically based. The same pattern may be stated equally well in the opposite way, as follows. Two closely related species are distinct where they occur together, but where one member of the pair occurs alone it converges toward the second, even to the extent of being nearly Identical with it in some characters. Experience has shown that it is from this latter point of view that character displacement is most easily detected in routine taxonomic analysis. By stating the situation in two ways, we have called attention to the dual nature of the pattern: species populations show displacement where they occur together, and convergence where they do not Character displacement just might in some cases represent no more than a peculiar and in a limited sense a fortuitous pattern of variation. But in our opinion it is generally much more than this; we believe that it is a common aspect of geographical speciation, arising most often as a product of the genetic and ecological interaction of two (or more) newly evolved, cognate species during their period of first contact. This thesis will be discussed in more detail in a later section. Character displacement is not a new concept. A number of authors have described it more or less in detail, and a few have commented on its evolutionary significance. We should like in the present paper to bring some of this material together, to illustrate the various aspects the pattern may assume in nature, and to discuss the possible consequences in taxonomic theory and practice which may follow from a wider appreciation of the phenomenon. [...]


Systematic Zoology, Vol. 5, No. 2. (June 1956), pp. 49-64, https://doi.org/10.2307/2411924 
Key: INRMM:7681801

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