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Evolutionary and ecological theory predicts that closely related and similar species should coexist infrequently because speciation is more likely to occur allopatrically than sympatrically, and because co-occurring species with similar traits may compete for limited resources, leading to competitive exclusion or character displacement. Here we study the unusual coexistence of 10 similar congeneric species of Anelosimus spiders within a small forest fragment in Madagascar. We asked if these species radiated in sympatry or allopatry, and if there was evidence for local-scale character displacement in body size and other species-level traits. We sampled ∼ 350 colonies (6346 individuals) along a 2800 m transect. We identified colonies using morphology and DNA barcoding, and tested the monophyly of local and regional species assemblages with time-calibrated phylogenies. We used null model analysis and phylogenetic signal inference to test for patterns of segregation in body size, microhabitat, phenology, and seasonality of coexisting species. We found that all species belong to a Madagascan clade that radiated during the Pliocene, but that contemporary local assemblages are non-monophyletic. This is consistent with allopatric speciation during periods of global cooling and expansion of grasslands, and subsequent species assembly as forest fragments re-expanded and coalesced. We found no evidence for character displacement, except for overdispersion and even spacing in phenology: species were segregated by instars in a manner consistent with resource partitioning or maintenance of reproductive isolation. Overdispersion or even spacing in phenology may contribute to coexistence either through resource partitioning or mate recognition. However, there was no support for a scenario of resource partitioning and divergence of body size or other correlated morphological characters. These traits are better explained by evolutionary forces operating during speciation, rather than ecological forces operating during local community assembly.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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