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The relative importance of geography and ecology in species diversification: evidence from a tropical marine intertidal snail (Nerita)

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Abstract Aim 

In this study, I examined the relative contributions of geography and ecology to species diversification within the genus Nerita, a prominent clade of marine snails that is widely distributed across the tropics and intertidal habitats. Specifically, I tested whether geographical patterns of speciation correspond primarily to allopatric or sympatric models, and whether habitat transitions have played a major role in species diversification. Location 

Indo-West Pacific, eastern Pacific, Atlantic, tropical marine intertidal. Methods 

I used a previously reconstructed molecular phylogeny of Nerita as a framework to assess the relative importance of geographical and ecological factors in species diversification. To evaluate whether recently diverged clades exhibit patterns consistent with allopatric or sympatric speciation, I mapped the geo-graphical distribution of each species onto the species-level phylogeny, and examined the relationship between range overlap and time since divergence using age–range correlation analyses. To determine the relative contribution of habitat transitions to divergence, I traced shifts in intertidal substrate affinity and vertical zonation across the phylogeny using parsimony, and implemented randomization tests to evaluate the resulting patterns of ecological change. Results 

Within the majority of Nerita clades examined, age–range correlation analysis yielded a low intercept and a positive slope, similar to that expected under allopatric speciation. Approximately 75% of sister species pairs have maintained allopatric distributions; whereas more distantly related sister taxa often exhibited complete or nearly complete geographical overlap. In contrast, only 19% of sister species occupy distinct habitats. For both substrate and zonation, habitat transitions failed to concentrate towards either the tips or the root of the phylogeny. Instead, habitat shifts have occurred throughout the history of Nerita, with a general transition from the lower and mid-littoral towards the upper and supra-littoral zones, and multiple independent shifts from hard (rock) to softer substrates (mangrove, mud and sand). Main conclusions 

Both geography and ecology appear to have influenced diversification in Nerita, but to different extents. Geography seems to play a principal role, with allopatric speciation driving the majority of Nerita divergences. Habitat transitions appear insignificant in shaping the early and recent history of speciation, and promoting successive diversification in Nerita; however, shifts may have been important for respective divergences (i.e. those that correspond to the transitions) and enhancing diversity throughout the clade.
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Keywords: Age–range correlation; allopatric speciation; habitat; intertidal zonation; marine snail; phylogeny; range overlap; speciation; sympatry

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-08-01

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