International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 1222–1252 | Cite as

Dietary Competition in an Extant Mammalian Guild: Application of a Quantitative Method to Evaluate Reconstructed Niche Overlap in Paleocommunities



The evaluation of competition, contingent on the identification of niche similarity, is a challenge in the fossil record. Specifically, a method for quantifying the degree of niche overlap is needed, as niches in paleocommunities can be reconstructed only using ecomorphological characters. In this study, I suggest the use of nonparametric multivariate pairwise comparisons for testing the presence or absence of niche overlap, wherein niches are defined as Hutchinsonian multidimensional hypervolumes. I applied this method to an extant mammalian guild, comprising primates and their dietary competitors, to determine the significance of dimensionality in niche construction and to examine the ability of molar morphology to capture dietary niche overlap. I conducted principal component analyses of eight molar measurements across all members of this guild, and dietary niches were defined by principal component scores. Niche overlap was assessed through the comparison of distances among individuals both within and between niches. To demonstrate the application of the proposed method, I compared dietary niches of 1) seven predefined dietary groups and 2) genera within and across dietary groups using multivariate pairwise comparisons. Results indicated that the typically unexplored higher principal components, or “niche axes,” may be integral to niche separation. As predicted, almost all niches of genera from different dietary groups did not overlap; however, niche overlap among genera within the same dietary category was less than expected. This highlights our need to investigate further the structure of niches within extant guilds to better inform our examination of competition in paleocommunities.


Biotic interactions Hutchinsonian niche Primate communities Primate evolution 



First and foremost, I want to thank the guest editors for their invitation to contribute to this special issue on primate communities as well as their assistance in manuscript preparation. I thank Gary Schwartz and Kaye Reed for guidance and support in the development of this project; Christopher Campisano and Gregg Gunnell for the construction and refinement of project ideas; Emily Barton, Shelly Bruno, Megan Best, Jennifer Burgdorf, Lexus Demetres, Austin Doll, Lawrence Fatica, and Madeline Moore for assistance with specimen preparation and dietary data collection; Marian Dagosto for the loan of equipment necessary to initiate this study; Mark Hafner for permission to use the collection at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science; Natarajan Raghunand and Gerald Guntle at the University of Arizona Cancer Center for assistance with image acquisition; and Gary Schwartz, Kaye Reed, Kristi Lewton, and three anonymous reviewers, who provided invaluable comments and suggestions that greatly enhanced the quality of this manuscript. This work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (NSF-BCS 1155997), Sigma Xi, and the Graduate and Professional Student Association and School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Institute of Human OriginsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical SciencesGrand Valley State UniversityAllendaleUSA

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