- Published on May 20, 2009
- Contact Nancy Ross-Flanigan
The research, by University of Michigan evolutionary biologists Tom Duda and Taehwan Lee, is scheduled to be published online May 20 in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.
In the study, Duda and Lee explored ecological release, a phenomenon thought to be responsible for some of the most dramatic diversifications of living things in Earth's history. Ecological release occurs when a population is freed from the burden of competition, either because its competitors become extinct or because it colonizes a new area where few or no competitors are found. When this happens, the "released" population typically expands its diet or habitat, taking over resources that would be off-limits if competitors were present. This expansion is believed to drive the evolution of adaptations for taking advantage of the new resources, such as venoms tailored to a broader array of prey.
"Although there are plenty of examples of populations expanding into a variety of niches after experiencing ecological release, little is known about the evolution of genes associated with this phenomenon," said Duda, an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
To investigate the process, Duda and Lee took advantage of a natural experiment involving a species of cone snails (Conus miliaris), which is found in shallow waters of tropical to subtropical environments from the Red Sea and eastern shores of Africa in the western Indian Ocean to Easter Island and Sala y G