Among the numerous and still informative ecological predictions made by Darwin, one posits that when species are introduced into regions where they were not formerly found, the most successful tend to not have close relatives already occupying the region. This is known as Darwin's Naturalization Hypothesis, and his logic was that among close relatives, where ecological requirements should be most similar, the struggle for existence is most severe. Thus the modern formulation is that invader success is influenced by the amount of time since two species shared a common ancestor (usually called phylogenetic distance). Tests of this hypothesis have been primarily done on large species inventories, with results from different studies either supporting or refuting it. In a new study by Lin Jiang and colleagues published in the American Naturalist, they cleverly use bacteria with known relatedness to test this hypothesis.
They used four species of bacteria: Bacillus pumilus, B. cereus, Frigoribacterium sp. and Serratia marcescens as residents in every possible 1, 2, 3 and 4-species communities and invaded them with a subspecies of S. marcescens. What they found was that the invader density was highly significantly related to phylogenetic distance, so that the invader reached its greatest density when communities contained only distantly-related species.
Though these types of laboratory experiments are simplistic (I too use these systems), they offer insights into particular mechanisms, which may otherwise be difficult to detect in noisier systems.
Jiang, L., Tan, J., & Pu, Z. (2010). An Experimental Test of Darwin’s Naturalization Hypothesis The American Naturalist, 175 (4), 415-423 DOI: 10.1086/650720
The Hitchhiker's Guide, animated
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