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Syst Biol. 2010 Dec;59(6):619-33. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syq053. Epub 2010 Sep 30.

Quantitative traits and diversification.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. mail:


Quantitative traits have long been hypothesized to affect speciation and extinction rates. For example, smaller body size or increased specialization may be associated with increased rates of diversification. Here, I present a phylogenetic likelihood-based method (quantitative state speciation and extinction [QuaSSE]) that can be used to test such hypotheses using extant character distributions. This approach assumes that diversification follows a birth-death process where speciation and extinction rates may vary with one or more traits that evolve under a diffusion model. Speciation and extinction rates may be arbitrary functions of the character state, allowing much flexibility in testing models of trait-dependent diversification. I test the approach using simulated phylogenies and show that a known relationship between speciation and a quantitative character could be recovered in up to 80% of the cases on large trees (500 species). Consistent with other approaches, detecting shifts in diversification due to differences in extinction rates was harder than when due to differences in speciation rates. Finally, I demonstrate the application of QuaSSE to investigate the correlation between body size and diversification in primates, concluding that clade-specific differences in diversification may be more important than size-dependent diversification in shaping the patterns of diversity within this group.

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