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Re-evaluating niche conservatism versus divergence in the Woodland Salamander genus Plethodon: a case study of the parapatric members of the Plethodon glutinosus species complex

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The Woodland Salamander genus Plethodon Tschudi, 1838, consists of terrestrial lungless salamanders, has been cited as an exemplar of a lineage characterized by niche conservatism. This conclusion has contributed to broader hypotheses dealing with the role of niche conservatism in speciation and the maintenance of species diversity. We re-evaluated these salamanders using newly published techniques designed to detect niche conservatism versus niche divergence using computer-based niche modeling and spatial analysis within a phylogenetic framework. We specifically studied parapatric neighbors in the species complex of Plethodon glutinosus (Green, 1818) to determine if there is evidence of a role for niche divergence at speciation or if niche conservatism characterizes the complex as has been reported for the larger genus. We found that new statistical approaches yield different results from earlier work, suggesting that niche divergence has been a much more important player in the speciation process than has heretofore been understood. Although different parts of the overall Plethodon phylogeny may be characterized by different rates of niche evolution, the rapidly burgeoning area of research centered on niche conservatism appears to be in a state of flux with regards to methods that give consistently repeatable results.

Keywords: Plethodon; SEEVA; conservatisme de niche; divergence de niche; ecological niche modeling; modélisation de la niche écologique; niche conservatism; niche divergence; parapatrie; parapatry; salamanders; salamandres; speciation; spéciation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, The University of Findlay, Findlay, OH 45840, USA. 2: Department of Biology, Piedmont College, Demorest, GA 30535, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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