Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Blog Québécoise: Niche Constructed Community Monopolization

Community monopolization. Evolutionary monopolization. Cultural Monopolization. In this post, I hope to weave these concepts together into a unified whole by means of an analogy based on Québec and its politics. 

The early bird gets the worm. This simple statement is the universal acknowledgement that, when resources are limited, the first individual to arrive at a given location will – all else being equal – obtain the most resources. This monopolization of resources by early individuals can sometimes be so strong as to prevent the establishment of later individuals. That is, early birds can exclude late birds – even if they are otherwise identical in their foraging ability.

These priority effects can extend beyond individuals. For instance, the idea of “community monopolization” posits that early-arriving species can monopolize resources and exclude late-arriving (but otherwise identical) species from a given location. Community assembly thus can be a simple function of the order in which species arrive, rather than their different traits or functional abilities. As an extreme example, species A might be better adapted than species B for a given location, but if species B gets there first, it can monopolize resources and exclude the otherwise superior species A. The same logic can apply to different types within a single species. That is, early-arriving phenotypes/genotypes might monopolize resources and exclude late-arriving phenotypes/genotypes – even if the late arrivers would otherwise be better adapted.

The early bird might also evolve to get the worm. Envision two functionally-equivalent species (or phenotypes/genotypes) that could colonize a new location, such as a new pond forming in a region with two different clones of the zooplankton Daphnia. Dispersal is limited across the landscape, and so the two clones are unlikely to arrive at the same time – perhaps one arrives several months before the other. In this case, the early-arriving clone could rapidly evolve adaptations that better suit them for the new environment (Daphnia can show rapid evolution within a single summer). When the second clone eventually arrives, it finds a now better-adapted clone already present and the second clone is therefore excluded. Evolutionary monopolization.

The Question: Image stolen from one of Luc De Meester's presentations.

All of this might be just academic speculation, except that the question is germane to changes in community structure as a result of climate change – with Daphnia providing a nice test case. Daphnia show adaptation to temperature, such that clones living in a warmer environment have higher fitness (survival and reproduction) in that environment than do Daphnia adapted to cold environments. Daphnia also move extensively across the landscape, such as when their resting eggs stick to a bird’s legs. So how will adaptation and dispersal interact to shape community assembly under climate warming? Perhaps northern cold-adapted populations will simply be replaced by migrants from southern populations that have a long history of adaptation to warm conditions. Alternatively, perhaps northern cold-adapted populations will rapidly adapt to the warming conditions, and thereby exclude the southern immigrants that would otherwise have been better suited for the new warmer conditions.

The Basic Experiment: Image stolen from one of Luc De Meester's presentations.

Wendy Van Doorslaer, Luc De Meester and colleagues tested these possibilities by placing cold-adapted Daphnia clones from the UK into unheated (colder) and heated (warmer) mesocosms. After allowing the Daphnia to evolve for 1.5 years, they competed the two types of UK clones (from the warm treatment and from the cold treatment) against warm-adapted French clones from France. Under warm test conditions, the French clones were trounced by the UK clones – but only the UK clones that had been adapting in the heated tanks. In short, a period of adaptation by the UK clones to warm conditions had a huge effect in maintaining their success in the face of invading French clones. Evolutionary monopolization made flesh.

More Experimental Details: Image stolen from one of Luc De Meester's presentations.

I was telling this story to my lab group because we had recently read a couple of papers that had discussed community and evolutionary monopolization. I described the French versus UK Daphnia results and pointed out that Luc likes to invoke the 1000 years of French–UK human conflict as a way of adding humor to this French–UK Daphnia death match. At precisely this time, Québec was in the throes of a contentious election, pitting the incumbent Québec separatist party – the Parti Québécoise – against the opposition federalist Québec Liberal Party. This context means that the constant tension (or at least discussion) of Francophone vs. Anglophone issues in Québec was firmly in our minds – and we couldn’t help but start to wonder if Québec provided a useful (or at least fun and topical) analogy.
Québec was first colonized by the French, who then had 150 years largely to themselves (apart from First Nations peoples, who were greatly reduced by disease) before being conquered by the British. The British then did as much as they could – both subtly and not-so-subtly – to subjugate, assimilate, and control the French. At that point, French immigration to Canada greatly decreased and British immigration took off. As a result, most of Canada to the west of Québec is English speaking. Québec, however, retained its dominant French character – perhaps, as I will argue here, because they arrived first and built up a substantial population (55,000+) before the conquest, a critical mass that favored community monopolization and resisted British immigration.

The Key Result: Image stolen from one of Luc De Meester's presentations.

As time went on, however, the British population in Canada dramatically increased. The coincident increase in British immigration into Québec (from the rest of Canada) eventually started to overwhelm the French population (a similar effect – higher immigration can overcome the priority effect – is seen in the Daphnia experiments). Before the French population became a minority, however, they elected a series of governments that brought in language laws favorable to the French: Immigrants from Canada must send their kids to French school (Québec residents also must do so). Outside advertising has to be in French (including business names – KFC becomes Poulet Frit Kentucky). And so on. This created a new form of monopolization: cultural monopolization.

Translation = KFC. Image Source.

In cultural monopolization (I just made this term up, although it seems likely to already exist), governments and other societal institutions enact rules, regulations, and norms that favor the local populace over immigrants. And it seems to have worked in Québec. In a relatively short time, many English businesses left Québec and the proportion of Anglophones (and Allophones) stopped increasing. The result was a “niche constructed” cultural version of evolutionary monopolization, where local conditions are altered through time to be favorable to the local population and unfavorable to foreign immigrants.

If cultural monopolization – primarily through language – has been important in Québec, one would expect immigrants from similar environments (French-speaking countries) to be more successful than immigrants from different environments (non-French-speaking countries). Moreover, because French immigrants do not (as strongly) dilute the culture Québec is trying to protect, you would expect government policies to favor French immigrants over English immigrants, which is indeed the case. Immigration into Québec, which has its own immigration offices, is easier from French-speaking countries. Moreover, French students pay resident rather than foreign tuition. (Remarkably, French students pay lower tuition than non-Québec Canadian students.)

Of course, all of this effort to retain a French character in Québec might be for naught if the French residents commonly interbred with English immigrants – leading to a genetic and cultural mishmash that would dilute the “pure” Québec culture. Unless, of course, inter-breeding (hybridization?) was rare, with Francophone women (and men) preferring Francophone men (and women). Although I have no stats on this, a quick poll of our lab group indicated that people felt cultural (language) differences did actually lead to positive assortative mating – mixed Francophone-Anglophone pairings were much rarer that would be expected at random. The agreed exception was late in the evening at nightclubs when people didn’t really pay that much attention to what the other sex was saying anyway. Beer goggles become beer earplugs. However, late-night trysts that start in nightclubs probably rarely lead to immediate children and so, perhaps, assortative child production (try bringing an Anglophone boyfriend home to a Francophone separatist father!) is stronger than assortative mating.

Of course, all this speculation is simply fun, but it is nevertheless interesting to think how culture might be another form of monopolization. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that immigrants in non-human animals can have lower fitness simply because of cultural differences, such as different song types in birds.

Parti Québécoise leader resigns in wake of election defeat. Source

Interestingly, results of the election described above suggest cultural monopolization might be weakening. The party in power (the Parti Québécoise) was pushing, as a major campaign promise, a bill (the Québec Charter) that would have placed severe restrictions on immigrant non-Québec cultural expression, especially religious symbols of non-Catholics. I am pleased to say, however, that this strategy did not play well to the Québec electorate. The Parti Québécoise went down to a resounding defeat at the hands of the more tolerant Québec liberals. Along the same lines, the Québec separatist party at the Canadian Federal level (the Bloc Québécoise) was soundly defeated – obliterated, really – by Québec voters in the last federal election. A cynic might say that immigration is again starting to overwhelm Québec culture and that we need more efforts at community (and cultural) monopolization. But I am not a cynic. I think the changing tide indicates that the Québec public have a growing confidence that their culture is strong and interesting and will now survive without needing additional institutional protections. Cultural monopolization has become coolness monopolization. That is why my kids are in French school and someday I expect to have to entertain Francophone boyfriends. Of course, they will have to be speaking English if they want to communicate with me – familial monopolization?

Planning familial monopolization?

This talk of kids growing up and having boyfriends is so depressing that I can’t help but revel in the great fun we had last week converting Easter Egg Hunting into Easter Egg Bouldering.

The Van Doorslaer et al. paper

Thanks to Gregor Rolshausen for the title of this post.


  1. Just quietly commenting here, but as a person who has roots in Quebec going back to 1823, I find this discussion to be a bit simplistic. Perhaps Quebec is not the best analogy for your discussion on "Niche constructed community monopolization."

    In my opinion, Quebec, and especially Montreal, has succeeded for more than a century in quietly being one of the most multicultural cities in North America.

  2. Indeed, it is much more complex but hard to do justice beyond the basic outline in a short blog. Quebec might not be the best analogy but it really was the analogy that got us discussing monopolization at length. So it was the right analogy at the time.

    Interestingly, I also have Quebec roots - going all the way back to Les Filles Du Roi in the 1660s and even before that. But my ancestors (and my wife's) moved to New England during the industrial revolution.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. "'. . . going all the way back to Les Filles Du Roi in 1660s and even before that . . ."

    My grand-mother's family went the other way:

    I'm descended from both the Olmsted's and Tartre's mentioned in the above history of Sutton, who were not British, but American, for several centuries. (The Olmsted's are founders of Hartford in the 1600s.).

    My father's family were Quebecois Scots who made an effort to be bilingual (as did many Irish and Scots who were immigrants to Quebec from Ireland in the 19th century.)

    By the way, anglophones have been marrying francophones in Quebec for centuries. Pierre Trudeau, the former Prime Minister, is the child of such a marriage.

  4. Bizarre. My ancestor - The Reverend Thomas Hooker was also one of the founder's of Hartford.

    (Regarding inter-breeding, I am not saying it doesn't happen just that it happens less often that one would expect at random.)0

  5. Oh. Yeah. Bizarre! Yikes!

    Hooker was a fascinating person. A deep thinker. I don't know if you've ever read about him.

    Here's something you might find interesting from the Olmsted Family Geneaology:

    "Meanwhile, the Puritans remaining in England had fallen upon bitter days, by the accession in 1625 of Charles I to the throne of his father. The new monarch's chief religious advisor was Wm. Laud, Bishop of London, and later Archbishop of Canterbury. This eminent but narrow-minded divine was a formalist by temperament and education. The crude simplicity of the reformed church was repugnant to him, and he determined to restore to the Church of England the pomp and ceremonial that he deemed was its rightful possession . . . "

    "Such was the condition of affairs in 1630, when in the County of Essex, in the neighborhood of our Olmsted ancestors, the Reverend Mr. Thomas Hooker, a preacher of great ability and renown, was silenced for non-conformity. To escape imprisonment and worse, he fled to Holland. Indeed, it was well that he fled, for he might have met the fate of another non-conformist minister who was that same year "pilloried, whipped, branded, slit in the nostrils, and deprived by successive mutuation of his ears."

    "Up to this time emigration to America had been slow, and the colony in New England numbered only some few hundred souls, but now the Puritan exodus began upon an unprecedented scale . . ."

    " They settled first at Mount Wallaston, now Quincy, near Boston, but in the course of the year, 'by order of the Court,' they removed to Newtown , now Cambridge."

    " . . .immediately after their settlement at Newtown, they expressed their earnest desires to Mr. Hooker that he would come over into New England and take the pastoral charge of them. At their desire he left Holland, and, having obtained Mr. Samuel Stone as an assistant in the ministry, took his passage for America, and arrived at Boston, Sept. 4, 1633."

    "He proceeded at once to Newtown, to take up the duties of his pastorate. There the Brain tree Colony, as it was termed, abode until the summer of 1636, when, dissatisfied by the form of government of the colony of Massachusetts and tempted by the charm of this pleasant Connecticut valley, of which they had heard reports, they "took their departure from Cambridge," and, in the words of Trumbull, "travelled more than a hundred miles through a hideous and trackless wilderness, to Hartford. They had no guide but their compass; made their way over mountains, through swamps, thickets, and rivers, which were not passable but with great difficulty. They had no cover but
    the heavens, nor any lodgings but those which simple nature afforded them. They drove with them a hundred and sixty head of cattle, and by the way, subsisted on the milk of their cows. Mrs. Hooker (who was ill) was borne through the wilderness upon a litter. The people generally carried their packs, arms, and some utensils. They were nearly a fortnight on their journey."

    So, there you have it!