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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jul 18;103(29):10947-51. Epub 2006 Jul 3.

Tropical forests are both evolutionary cradles and museums of leaf beetle diversity.

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  • 1Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. dmckenna@oeb.harvard.edu


The high extant species diversity of tropical lineages of organisms is usually portrayed as a relatively recent and rapid development or as a consequence of the gradual accumulation or preservation of species over time. These explanations have led to alternative views of tropical forests as evolutionary "cradles" or "museums" of diversity, depending on the organisms under study. However, biogeographic and fossil evidence implies that the evolutionary histories of diversification among tropical organisms may be expected to exhibit characteristics of both cradle and museum models. This possibility has not been explored in detail for any group of terrestrial tropical organisms. From an extensively sampled molecular phylogeny of herbivorous Neotropical leaf beetles in the genus Cephaloleia, we present evidence for (i) comparatively ancient Paleocene-Eocene adaptive radiation associated with global warming and Cenozoic maximum global temperatures, (ii) moderately ancient lineage-specific diversification coincident with the Oligocene adaptive radiation of Cephaloleia host plants in the genus Heliconia, and (iii) relatively recent Miocene-Pliocene diversification coincident with the collision of the Panama arc with South America and subsequent bridging of the Isthmus of Panama. These results demonstrate that, for Cephaloleia and perhaps other lineages of organisms, tropical forests are at the same time both evolutionary cradles and museums of diversity.

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