Natural communities may consist of hundreds of species. How do all these species coexist and why do some regions support more species than others? Where there is competition for limited resources, such as food, theory predicts that strong competitors will tend to displace competitively inferior species. However, through the evolution of traits that allow initially similar organisms to focus on different food items, competition between species may be reduced, and the numbers of species coexisting in any one area can be increased. This project aims to address two questions. First, which biological traits are important in allowing species coexistence? In particular, the research will focus on traits that might be important in detecting differences in food-use, for example dentition. Second, does coexistence drive evolutionary divergence in biological traits, or does evolutionary divergence in traits allow later coexistence? Assembling information on the evolution, geography and biology of the world's carnivores and primates, this research will provide the first global analysis of species coexistence and divergence across multiple communities. This work will help us to understand the distribution of species richness, and the diversity of form and function found in the natural world.
Interview with Jonathan Davies November 10, 2009, Jai Ranganathan's Voyage of the Beagle podcast - Can We Predict the Location of Future Epidemics in Humans and Wildlife