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Evolution. 2017 May;71(5):1149-1163. doi: 10.1111/evo.13228. Epub 2017 May 4.

Empirical phylogenies and species abundance distributions are consistent with preequilibrium dynamics of neutral community models with gene flow.

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Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS-Université de Montpellier-Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier-EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France.
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom.
École Normale Supérieure, 45 rue d'Ulm, F-75230, Paris, France.
Integrative Systems Biology Laboratory, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, 23955-6900, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


Community characteristics reflect past ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Here, we investigate whether it is possible to obtain realistically shaped modeled communities-that is with phylogenetic trees and species abundance distributions shaped similarly to typical empirical bird and mammal communities-from neutral community models. To test the effect of gene flow, we contrasted two spatially explicit individual-based neutral models: one with protracted speciation, delayed by gene flow, and one with point mutation speciation, unaffected by gene flow. The former produced more realistic communities (shape of phylogenetic tree and species-abundance distribution), consistent with gene flow being a key process in macro-evolutionary dynamics. Earlier models struggled to capture the empirically observed branching tempo in phylogenetic trees, as measured by the gamma statistic. We show that the low gamma values typical of empirical trees can be obtained in models with protracted speciation, in preequilibrium communities developing from an initially abundant and widespread species. This was even more so in communities sampled incompletely, particularly if the unknown species are the youngest. Overall, our results demonstrate that the characteristics of empirical communities that we have studied can, to a large extent, be explained through a purely neutral model under preequilibrium conditions.


Gene flow; macroevolution; neutral community models; phylogenetic tree shape; point mutation; preequilibrium; protracted speciation

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