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Data from: Darwin’s finches and their diet niches: the sympatric coexistence of imperfect generalists

Cite this dataset

De León, Luis F. et al. (2014). Data from: Darwin’s finches and their diet niches: the sympatric coexistence of imperfect generalists [Dataset]. Dryad.


Adaptive radiation can be strongly influenced by interspecific competition for resources, which can lead to diverse outcomes ranging from competitive exclusion to character displacement. In each case, sympatric species are expected to evolve into distinct ecological niches, such as different food types, yet this expectation is not always met when such species are examined in nature. The most common hypotheses to account for the coexistence of species with substantial diet overlap rest on temporal variation in niches (often diets). Yet spatial variation in niche overlap might also be important, pointing to the need for spatiotemporal analyses of diet and diet overlap between closely related species persisting in sympatry. We here perform such an analysis by characterizing the diets of, and diet overlap among, four sympatric Darwin's ground finch species at three sites and over 5 years on a single Galápagos island (Santa Cruz). We find that the different species have broadly similar and overlapping diets – they are to some extent generalists and opportunists – yet we also find that each species retains some ‘private’ resources for which their morphologies are best suited. Importantly, use of these private resources increased considerably, and diet overlap decreased accordingly, when the availability of preferred shared foods, such as arthropods, was reduced during drought conditions. Spatial variation in food resources was also important. These results together suggest that the ground finches are ‘imperfect generalists’ that use overlapping resources under benign conditions (in space or time), but then retreat to resources for which they are best adapted during periods of food limitation. These conditions likely promote local and regional coexistence.

Usage notes


Santa Cruz Island