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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
Early hominids had smaller brains and larger faces than species belonging to the genus Homo, including our own species, Homo sapiens. White parts of the skulls are reconstructions, and the skulls are not all on the same scale.
able to exploit that resource free of competition. As a result, the trait that opened up the new opportunity will be favored by natural selection because the individuals possessing it are able to survive and reproduce better than other members of their species in the new environment.
An ecologist would say that the variant had occupied a new niche—a term that defines the "job description" of an organism. (For example, a bluebird would have the niche of insect- and fruit-eater, inhabitant of forest edges and meadows, tree-hole nester, and so on.) One often finds closely related species in the same place and occupying what look like identical niches. However, if the niches were truly identical, one of the species should have a competitive advantage over the other and eventually drive the less fit species to extinction or to a different niche. That leads to a tentative hypothesis: where we find such a situation, careful observation should reveal subtle niche specialization of the apparently competing species.
This hypothesis has been tested by many biologists. For example, in the 1960s Robert MacArthur carefully studied three North American warblers of the same genus that were regularly seen feeding on insects in coniferous trees in the same areas—indeed, often in the same trees. MacArthur's painstaking observations revealed that the three were actually specialists: one fed on insects on the major branches near the trunk; another occupied the mid-regions of branches and ate from different parts of the foliage; and the third fed on insects occupying the finest needles near the periphery of the tree. Although the three warblers occurred together, they were in fact not competitors for the same food resources.
Often, species that are evolving together in the same ecosystem do so through a highly interactive process. For example, natural selection will favor organisms with defenses against predation; in turn, predators experience selection for traits that overcome those defenses. Such coevolutionary competitions are common in nature. Many