Radiating despite a lack of character

ecological divergence among closely related, morphologically similar honeyeaters (Aves: Meliphagidae) co-occurring in arid Australian environments

Eliot T. Miller*, Sarah K. Wagner, Luke J. Harmon, Robert E. Ricklefs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Quantifying the relationship between form and function can inform use of morphology as a surrogate for ecology. How the strength of this relationship varies continentally can inform understanding of evolutionary radiations; for example, does the relationship break down when certain lineages invade and diversify in novel habitats? The 75 species of Australian honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) are morphologically and ecologically diverse, with species feeding on nectar, insects, fruit, and other resources. We investigated Meliphagidae ecomorphology and community structure by (1) quantifying the concordance between morphology and ecology (foraging behavior), (2) estimating rates of trait evolution in relation to the packing of ecological space, and (3) comparing phylogenetic and trait community structure across the broad environmental gradients of the continent. We found that morphology explained 37% of the variance in ecology (and 62% vice versa), and we uncovered well-known bivariate relationships among the multivariate ecomorphological data. Ecological trait diversity declined less rapidly than phylogenetic diversity along a gradient of decreasing precipitation. We employ a new method (trait fields) and extend another (phylogenetic fields) to show that while species in phylogenetically clustered, arid-environment assemblages are similar morphologically, they are as varied in foraging behavior as those from more diverse assemblages. Thus, although closely related and similar morphologically, these arid-adapted species have diverged in ecological space to a similar degree as their mesic counterparts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E14-E30
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Volume189
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

Keywords

  • community assembly
  • ecomorphology
  • functional traits
  • interspecific competition
  • phylogenetic community structure
  • phylogenetic niche conservatism

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