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Tempo and timing of ecological trait divergence in bird speciation

By Jay P. McEntee, Joseph A. Tobias, Catherine Sheard, J. Gordon Burleigh

Posted 25 Oct 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/083253 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0570-y)

Organismal traits may evolve either gradually or in rapid pulses followed by periods of stasis, but the relative importance of these evolutionary models in generating biodiversity has proven difficult to resolve. In addition, while it is often assumed that pulses of trait evolution are associated with speciation events, few studies have explicitly examined how the tempo of trait divergence varies with respect to different geographical phases of speciation. Thus, we still know little about the trajectories of trait divergence over timescales relevant to speciation, or the extent to which these trajectories are shaped by variation in geographical isolation and overlap (sympatry) among incipient species. Here, we combine divergence time estimates, trait measurements, and geographic range data for avian sister species pairs worldwide to examine the tempo and timing of trait divergence during allopatric speciation. We show that divergence in two important ecological traits⎯body mass and beak morphology⎯is best explained by a model including pulses of divergence and periods of relative stasis. We also infer that trait divergence pulses often precede sympatry, and that pulses leading to greater trait disparity are associated with earlier transitions to sympatry. These findings suggest that early pulses of trait divergence promote subsequent transitions to sympatry, rather than such pulses occurring after sympatry has been established, for example via character displacement. Incorporating pulsed divergence models into allopatric speciation theory helps to resolve some apparently contradictory observations, including widespread instances of both rapid sympatry and prolonged geographical exclusion.

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