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Mutualistic Interactions Drive Ecological Niche Convergence in a Diverse Butterfly Community
1 Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, 23 Department of Botany, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, United States of America, 4 McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States of America Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom,
Ecological communities are structured in part by evolutionary interactions among their members. A number of recent studies incorporating phylogenetics into community ecology have upheld the paradigm that competition drives ecological divergence among species of the same guild. However, the role of other interspecific interactions, in particular positive interactions such as mutualism, remains poorly explored. We characterized the ecological niche and inferred phylogenetic relationships among members of a diverse community of neotropical Müllerian mimetic butterflies. Müllerian mimicry is one of the best studied examples of mutualism, in which unpalatable species converge in wing pattern locally to advertize their toxicity to predators. We provide evidence that mutualistic interactions can drive convergence along multiple ecological axes, outweighing both phylogeny and competition in shaping community structure. Our findings imply that ecological communities are adaptively assembled to a much greater degree than commonly suspected. In addition, our results show that phenotype and ecology are strongly linked and support the idea that mimicry can cause ecological speciation through multiple cascading effects on species' biology.
Academic Editor: Anurag Agrawal, Cornell University, United States of America
Citation: Elias M, Gompert Z, Jiggins C, Willmott K (2008) Mutualistic Interactions Drive Ecological Niche Convergence in a Diverse Butterfly Community. PLoS Biol 6(12): e300 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060300
Received: July 24, 2008; Accepted: October 22, 2008; Published: December 2, 2008
Copyright: © 2008 Elias et al. 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.
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