Diversification, biotic interchange, and the universal trade-off hypothesis

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Competition theory predicts that multispecies coexistence requires that species have traits that fall on the same interspecific trade-off surface. Fossil records for mollusks,mammals, trees, and other taxa show that with rare exception, ecologically similar species have coexisted for a million years or more after interchange between formerly isolated realms. This coexistence suggests the possibility, termed the universal trade-off hypothesis, that ecologically similar species of different realms have been bound to the same interspecific trade-off surface despite millions of years of independent evolution. Such persistence fails to support the biogeographic superiority hypothesis, which posits that genetic drift, recombination, mutation, and selection would cause taxa of one realm to gain superiority over those of another realm during long periods of isolation. Analysis of the lengths of time that species have persisted once in contact suggests that the trade-off surfaces of realms differed by >0.1% at the time of interchange. This implies that macroevolutionary patterns of differentiation and speciation within and between realms were more likely the movement of traits on a common tradeoff surface rather than directional selection achieved without compensatory trade-offs and costs. The existence of transrealm tradeoffs, should further work support this possibility, has deep implications for ecology and evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-371
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Biotic interchange
  • Coexistence
  • Invasion
  • Speciation
  • Trade-offs

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