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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Mar 7;273(1586):539-46.

Rapid lineage accumulation in a non-adaptive radiation: phylogenetic analysis of diversification rates in eastern North American woodland salamanders (Plethodontidae: Plethodon).

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  • 1Department of Biology, Washington University, St Louis, MO 63130, USA.


Adaptive radiations have served as model systems for quantifying the build-up of species richness. Few studies have quantified the tempo of diversification in species-rich clades that contain negligible adaptive disparity, making the macroevolutionary consequences of different modes of evolutionary radiation difficult to assess. We use mitochondrial-DNA sequence data and recently developed phylogenetic methodologies to explore the tempo of diversification of eastern North American Plethodon, a species-rich clade of woodland salamanders exhibiting only limited phenotypic disparity. Lineage-through-time analysis reveals a high rate of lineage accumulation, 0.8 species per million years, occurring 11-8 million years ago in the P. glutinosus species group, followed by decreasing rates. This high rate of lineage accumulation is exceptional, comparable to the most rapid of adaptive radiations. In contrast to classic models of adaptive radiation where ecological niche divergence is linked to the origin of species, we propose that phylogenetic niche conservatism contributes to the rapid accumulation of P. glutinosus-group lineages by promoting vicariant isolation and multiplication of species across a spatially and temporally fluctuating environment. These closely related and ecologically similar lineages persist through long-periods of evolutionary time and form strong barriers to the geographic spread of their neighbours, producing a subsequent decline in lineage accumulation. Rapid diversification among lineages exhibiting long-term maintenance of their bioclimatic niche requirements is an under-appreciated phenomenon driving the build-up of species richness.

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