We investigate how the intensity of competition for resources affects the strength of disruptive selection on a resource acquisition trait. This is done by analyzing several consumer–resource models in which consumers use a linear array of resources. We show that disruptive selection can be diminished under both strong and weak competition, making disruptive selection a unimodal function of the strength of competition. Weak selection under strong competition arises when competition causes the extinction (for self-reproducing resources) or depletion (for abiotic resources) of the most rapidly caught resources. Weak selection under weak competition is a consequence of minimal effects of consumers on resources. The precise relationship between intensity of competition and strength of disruptive selection is sensitive to the shape of the consumer's resource utilization curve and the nature of resource growth. The most strongly unimodal competition–selection relationships result from utilization curves with long tails. Our results show that a simple comparison of the width of the resource abundance distribution and the consumer's utilization function is not sufficient to determine whether selection is disruptive. The results may explain some contradictory experimental findings regarding the effect of consumer mortality on the strength of disruptive selection.
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Vol. 62 • No. 7