Phenotypic evolution toward adaptively optimal morphologies

This Friday we will be discussing: "Iterative adaptive radiations of fossil canids show no evidence for diversity-dependent trait evolution" by Slater 2015. The paper is a part of the Special issue: "The future of the fossil record: Paleontology in the 21st century."


A long-standing hypothesis in adaptive radiation theory is that ecological opportunity constrains rates of phenotypic evolution, generating a burst of morphological disparity early in clade history. Empirical support for the early burst model is rare in comparative data, however. One possible reason for this lack of support is that most phylogenetic tests have focused on extant clades, neglecting information from fossil taxa. Here, I test for the expected signature of adaptive radiation using the outstanding 40-My fossil record of North American canids. Models implying time- and diversity-dependent rates of morphological evolution are strongly rejected for two ecologically important traits, body size and grinding area of the molar teeth. Instead, Ornstein–Uhlenbeck processes implying repeated, and sometimes rapid, attraction to distinct dietary adaptive peaks receive substantial support. Diversity-dependent rates of morphological evolution seem uncommon in clades, such as canids, that exhibit a pattern of replicated adaptive radiation. Instead, these clades might best be thought of as deterministic radiations in constrained Simpsonian subzones of a major adaptive zone. Support for adaptive peak models may be diagnostic of subzonal radiations. It remains to be seen whether early burst or ecological opportunity models can explain broader adaptive radiations, such as the evolution of higher taxa.

Published June 10, 2015 10:25 AM - Last modified June 10, 2015 10:31 AM