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Tropical niche conservatism as a historical narrative hypothesis for the Neotropics: a case study using the fly family Muscidae

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Aim  We evaluate the extent to which the tropical conservatism hypothesis can explain the evolutionary development of the Muscidae. Furthermore, we compare the geographical patterns of muscid phylogenetic structure with biogeographical regions that have been identified for Neotropical insects.

Location  Central and South America.

Methods  We modelled the geographic distributions of 658 species using Maxent and 19 environmental variables. A generic‐level supertree of the Muscidae was assembled using matrix representation with parsimony and used to map the geographic pattern of mean root distance (MRD), a metric of the relative evolutionary development of assemblages. Regression models (ordinary least squares and regression trees) were used to examine temperature and other environmental correlates of MRD to explore potential environmental drivers of muscid diversification. We used the regression tree results to recognize variable intervals that best explained MRD, and these intervals were mapped to recognize and compare with biogeographical regions of Neotropical insects.

Results  The geographic pattern of MRD was consistent with the tropical conservatism hypothesis: species in genera that diversified relatively early, as measured by their distance from the tree root, dominate lowland tropical South America, whereas species in genera that diversified more recently occupy extra‐tropical areas, sub‐Antarctic areas and the Andean highlands. Temperature was the strongest correlate of MRD. Three biogeographical regions were recognized and they coincided with two regions known for insects.

Main conclusions  Evolutionary responses of muscid flies to post‐Eocene climate change taking the form of an expansion of a tropical group into regions with colder climates may be fundamental to explaining their distribution in the Neotropics. Our biogeographical regions delimited by temperature and the phylogenetic metric, surrogates of the tropical conservatism hypothesis, were very similar to general insect patterns, supporting the ‘tropical origin and evolutionary response to climate cooling’ as a broadly based historical narrative for the Neotropics.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Universidade Federal da Integração Latino-Americana, Foz do Iguaçu, PR, Brazil 2: Departamento de Zoologia, SCB, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba, PR, Brazil 3: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2011

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