Trait Evolution in Adaptive Radiations: Modeling and Measuring Interspecific Competition on Phylogenies.

The American naturalist

PubMedID: 28107052

Clarke M, Thomas GH, Freckleton RP. Trait Evolution in Adaptive Radiations: Modeling and Measuring Interspecific Competition on Phylogenies. Am Nat. 2017;189(2):121-137.
The incorporation of ecological processes into models of trait evolution is important for understanding past drivers of evolutionary change. Species interactions have long been thought to be key drivers of trait evolution. However, models for comparative data that account for interactions between species are lacking. One of the challenges is that such models are intractable and difficult to express analytically. Here we present phylogenetic models of trait evolution that include interspecific competition among chosen species. Competition is modeled as a tendency of sympatric species to evolve toward difference from one another, producing trait overdispersion and high phylogenetic signal. The model predicts elevated trait variance across species and a slowdown in evolutionary rate both across the clade and within each branch. The model also predicts a reduction in correlation between otherwise correlated traits. We use an approximate Bayesian computation approach to estimate model parameters. We find reasonable power to detect competition in sufficiently large (20+ species) trees compared with Brownian trait evolution and with Ornstein-Uhlenbeck and early burst models. We apply the model to examine the evolution of bill morphology of Darwin's finches and find evidence that competition affects the evolution of bill length.