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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 May 31;102(22):7877-81. Epub 2005 May 2.

Deep history impacts present-day ecology and biodiversity.

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  • 1Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and Zoology Department, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73072, USA.


Lizards and snakes putatively arose between the early Jurassic and late Triassic; they diversified worldwide and now occupy many different ecological niches, making them ideal for testing theories on the origin of ecological traits. We propose and test the "deep history hypothesis," which claims that differences in ecological traits among species arose early in evolutionary history of major clades, and that present-day assemblages are structured largely because of ancient, preexisting differences. We combine phylogenetic data with ecological data collected over nearly 40 years to reconstruct the evolution of dietary shifts in squamate reptiles. Data on diets of 184 lizard species in 12 families from 4 continents reveal significant dietary shifts at 6 major divergence points, reducing variation by 79.8%. The most striking dietary divergence (27.6%) occurred in the late Triassic, when Iguania and Scleroglossa split. These two clades occupy different regions of dietary niche space. Acquisition of chemical prey discrimination, jaw prehension, and wide foraging provided scleroglossans access to sedentary and hidden prey that are unavailable to iguanians. This cladogenic event may have profoundly influenced subsequent evolutionary history and diversification. We suggest the hypothesis that ancient events in squamate cladogenesis, rather than present-day competition, caused dietary shifts in major clades such that some lizard clades gained access to new resources, which in turn led to much of the biodiversity observed today.

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