Exceptional Convergence on the Macroevolutionary Landscape in Island Lizard Radiations

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Science  19 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6143, pp. 292-295
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232392

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Playing the Tape of Life

Should the tape of life be replayed, would it produce the same music? Many influential evolutionary biologists, notably Stephen J. Gould, have argued that the answer is “no.” However, patterns of convergence among different species filling similar niches all over the world have argued that the answer is neither so simple nor perhaps so negative. Classic cases of convergence, such as marsupials on the Australian continent or cichlids across the African rift lakes, have demonstrated that similar ecological pressures can result in species with similar ecological traits. Such classic examples, however, do not allow for the influence of niche filling based purely on chance. Mahler et al. (p. 292) take advantage of the well-studied species clades of Caribbean anoles to examine patterns of adaptation and niche filling across species and islands. Across-islands convergence on a few distinct adaptive peaks (or niches) has driven diversification of species. Anomalies from these ecotypes are only found on the largest, most diverse islands. Thus, ecological niches powerfully shape species and convergence on particular forms is an inherent component of adaptation. Thus, it seems that the tape of life might play the same music, despite being produced by different instruments.


G. G. Simpson, one of the chief architects of evolutionary biology’s modern synthesis, proposed that diversification occurs on a macroevolutionary adaptive landscape, but landscape models are seldom used to study adaptive divergence in large radiations. We show that for Caribbean Anolis lizards, diversification on similar Simpsonian landscapes leads to striking convergence of entire faunas on four islands. Parallel radiations unfolding at large temporal scales shed light on the process of adaptive diversification, indicating that the adaptive landscape may give rise to predictable evolutionary patterns in nature, that adaptive peaks may be stable over macroevolutionary time, and that available geographic area influences the ability of lineages to discover new adaptive peaks.

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