When species compete, they often evolve to become more different in morphological and behavioral features that are important in acquiring vital resources, such as food. This process by which species become more different from a competitor is called "character displacement". Character displacement is critical for explaining how different species can coexist in the same habitat and why even closely related species typically differ. Yet, we know remarkably little about how this process unfolds. The proposed research will fill this critical gap by conducting observations and experiments on natural populations of two species of frogs. This research could prove vital for understanding how living things develop, function, and change over time. Moreover, this work will help us to understand how an organism's environment, not just its genes, affects its development.
Such studies are essential for evaluating the origin and treatment of developmental diseases. This work will also contribute to educational outreach by training young scientists (including K-12 students) in interdisciplinary research, and will broaden access to science by actively recruiting students from underrepresented groups. Finally, because of numerous changes to their environment, many species are currently undergoing radical shifts in their geographical ranges and thereby encountering new competitors. This work could serve as a model for what might happen to biodiversity following such encounters.