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J Evol Biol. 2003 Mar;16(2):200-7.

Testing the link between the latitudinal gradient in species richness and rates of molecular evolution.

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Centre for the Study of Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK.


Numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain latitudinal gradients in species richness, but all are subject to ongoing debate. Here we examine Rohde's (1978, 1992) hypothesis, which proposes that climatic conditions at low latitudes lead to elevated rates of speciation. This hypothesis predicts that rates of molecular evolution should increase towards lower latitudes, but this prediction has never been tested. We discuss potential links between rates of molecular evolution and latitudinal diversity gradients, and present the first test of latitudinal variation in rates of molecular evolution. Using 45 phylogenetically independent, latitudinally separated pairs of bird species and higher taxa, we compare rates of evolution of two mitochondrial genes and DNA-DNA hybridization distances. We find no support for an effect of latitude on rate of molecular evolution. This result casts doubt on the generality of a key component of Rohde's hypothesis linking climate and speciation.

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