Why close kin keep their distance in animal kingdom

May 28th, 2008 - 2:32 pm ICT by admin  

London, May 28 (IANS) Mammals cannot share their habitat with closely-related species because the need for the same kind of food and shelter would lead them to compete to the death, a new study has said. The finding - the best evidence so far for an old Darwinian prediction - is important because habitat destruction and climate change could inadvertently force closely-related species to live closer together than before.

“The danger is that if mankind’s reduction of natural habitats throws these close relatives together in small geographical areas they could struggle to survive,” said Natalie Cooper of London’s Imperial College and lead author of the study.

Findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences.

“Mammal species that share a recent common ancestor have similar needs in terms of food and other resources.

“Our study shows that this has naturally resulted in closely-related species keeping their distance from each other in the wild. Without this separation, one species outcompetes the other,” Cooper said.

The new research focussed on communities of three different types of mammals: monkeys, opossums and ground squirrels.

Cooper compared data from a “family tree” showing the evolution of all mammal species on the planet, with checklists of which mammal species are found where.

They discovered that in the case of these monkeys, squirrels and opossums, close evolutionary relatives do not tend to live in communities with one another.

This idea that closely-related species would be unlikely to be found together was first put forward by Charles Darwin in 1859.

This study provides the best evidence so far for Darwin’s prediction, thanks to the new complete “family tree” for mammals, developed by Imperial College biologists last year, and new comprehensive data on the location and make-up of different mammal communities worldwide.

Cooper hopes her findings could help conservationists better understand the possible problems that mammal species could encounter if their habitats are depleted.

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