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Syst Biol. 2010 May;59(3):298-306. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syq005. Epub 2010 Feb 26.

Regional variation exaggerates ecological divergence in niche models.

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  • 1National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1527, USA.


Traditionally, the goal of systematics has been to produce classifications that are both strongly supported and biologically meaningful. In recent years several authors have advocated complementing phylogenetic analyses with measures of another form of evolutionary change, ecological divergence. These analyses frequently rely on ecological niche models to determine if species have comparable environmental requirements, but it has heretofore been difficult to test the accuracy of these inferences. To address this problem, I simulate the geographic distributions of allopatric species with identical environmental requirements. I then test whether existing analyses based on geographic distributions will correctly infer that the 2 species' requirements are identical. This work demonstrates that when taxa disperse to different environments, many analyses can erroneously infer changes in environmental requirements, but the severity of the problem depends on the method used. As this could exaggerate the number of ecologically distinct taxa in a clade, I suggest diagnostics to mitigate this problem.

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