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Phylogenetic niche conservatism

The term phylogenetic niche conservatism has seen increasing use in recent years[when?] in the scientific literature, though the exact definition has been a matter of some contention.[1] Fundamentally, phylogenetic niche conservatism refers to the tendency of species to retain their ancestral traits. When defined as such, phylogenetic niche conservatism is therefore nearly synonymous with phylogenetic signal. The point of contention is whether or not "conservatism" refers simply to the tendency of species to resemble their ancestors, or implies that "closely related species are more similar than expected based on phylogenetic relationships".[1] If the latter interpretation is employed, then phylogenetic niche conservatism can be seen as an extreme case of phylogenetic signal, and implies that the processes which prevent divergence are in operation in the lineage under consideration. Despite efforts by Jonathan Losos to end this habit, however, the former interpretation appears to frequently motivate scientific research. In this case, phylogenetic niche conservatism might best be considered a form of phylogenetic signal reserved for traits with broad-scale ecological ramifications (i.e. related to the Hutchinsonian niche).[2] Thus, phylogenetic niche conservatism is usually invoked with regards to closely related species occurring in similar environments.[3]

History and debate

According to a recent review,[2] the term niche conservatism traces its roots to a book on comparative methods in evolutionary biology.[4] However, and as these authors also note, the idea is much older. For instance, Darwin observed in the Origin of Species[5] that species in the same genus tend to resemble one another. This was not a matter of chance, as the entire Linnean taxonomy system is based on classifying species into hierarchically nested groups, e.g. a genus is (and was particularly at the time of Darwin's writing) by definition a collection of similar species. In modern times this pattern has come to be referred to as phylogenetic signal, "the tendency of related species to resemble each other more than species drawn at random from the same tree [6]". Methods such as Abouheif’s C,[7] Pagel's lambda,[8] Blomberg's K,[9] and Moran's I[10] have been employed to test the statistical significance of the pattern. With regards to the term phylogenetic niche conservatism, many authors[citation needed] have taken a significant result here—i.e. that phylogenetic information can help "predict" species traits—to be evidence of phylogenetic niche conservatism. Other authors, however, advocate that such a pattern should be expected (i.e. follow from "Descent with modification"[5]) and, accordingly, only in instances where species resemble each other more than expected based on their phylogenetic relationships should one invoke the term phylogenetic niche conservatism.[citation needed] To take a single statistical test as an example, an unconstrained Brownian motion evolution process will result in a Blomberg's K value of 1; the strict school of thought would only accept a K > 1 as evidence of phylogenetic niche conservatism.

Research foci

In an influential paper, Wiens and Donoghue[3] laid out how phylogenetic niche conservatism might help explain the latitudinal diversity gradient. While support for the hypothesis that niche conservatism drives latitudinally structured variation in species richness has been found in some clades,[11] overall, phylogenetic niche conservatism has not received strong support as the underlying cause responsible for variation in how many species occur in a given habitat.[12][13] It has, however, found considerable support as a factor driving which species occur in a given habitat.[13][14] That is, the study of phylogenetic niche conservatism by itself has not put an end to long-standing debate over what drives the latitudinal diversity gradient across clades, but within specific clades and across specific environmental gradients (as opposed to latitude sensu stricto), it has found support as a factor influencing which lineages are able to persist.[15][16]

See also



  • Wiens, J. J; Graham, C. H; Moen, D. S; Smith, S. A; Reeder, T. W (2006). "Evolutionary and ecological causes of the latitudinal diversity gradient in hylid frogs: treefrog trees unearth the roots of high tropical diversity". American Naturalist. 168 (5): 579–596. doi:10.1086/507882. PMID 17080358. S2CID 35377343.
  • Algar, A. C.; Kerr, J. T.; Currie, D. J. (2009). "Evolutionary constraints on regional faunas: whom, but not how many". Ecology Letters. 12 (1): 57–65. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01260.x. PMID 19049512.
  • Buckley, Lauren B.; Davies, T. Jonathan; Ackerly, David D.; Kraft, Nathan JB; Harrison, Susan P.; Anacker, Brian L.; Cornell, Howard V.; Damschen, Ellen I.; Grytnes, John-Avid; Hawkins, Bradford A.; others (2010). "Phylogeny, niche conservatism and the latitudinal diversity gradient in mammals". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. 277 (1691): 2131–2138. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0179. PMC 2880153. PMID 20335205.
  • Wiens, John J.; Ackerly, David D.; Allen, Andrew P.; Anacker, Brian L.; Buckley, Lauren B.; Cornell, Howard V.; Damschen, Ellen I.; Jonathan Davies, T.; Grytnes, John-Arvid; Harrison, Susan P.; others (2010). "Niche conservatism as an emerging principle in ecology and conservation biology". Ecology Letters. 13 (10): 1310–1324. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01515.x. PMID 20649638.
  • Wiens, John J.; Graham, Catherine H. (2005). "Niche conservatism: integrating evolution, ecology, and conservation biology". Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 36: 519–539. doi:10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.36.102803.095431. JSTOR 30033815.
  • Peterson, A. T.; Soberón, J.; Sánchez-Cordero, V. (1999). "Conservatism of ecological niches in evolutionary time". Science. 285 (5431): 1265–1267. doi:10.1126/science.285.5431.1265. PMID 10455053.
  • Hortal, J.; Diniz-Filho, J. A. F.; Bini, L. M.; Rodríguez, M. Á.; Baselga, A.; Nogués-Bravo, D.; Rangel, T. F.; Hawkins, B. A.; Lobo, J. M. (2011). "Ice age climate, evolutionary constraints and diversity patterns of European dung beetles". Ecology Letters. 14 (8): 741–748. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01634.x. PMID 21645193.
  • Moran, Patrick AP (1950). "Notes on continuous stochastic phenomena". Biometrika. 37 (1/2): 17–23. doi:10.1093/biomet/37.1-2.17. JSTOR 2332142. PMID 15420245.
  • Blomberg, S. P.; Garland, T. Jr.; Ives, A. R. (2003). "Testing for phylogenetic signal in comparative data: behavioral traits are more labile". Evolution. 57 (4): 717–745. doi:10.1554/0014-3820(2003)057[0717:tfpsic];2. PMID 12778543.
  • Abouheif, Ehab (1999). "A method for testing the assumption of phylogenetic independence in comparative data". Evolutionary Ecology Research. 1 (8): 895–909. Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  • Miller, E. T.; Zanne, A. E.; Ricklefs, R. E. (2013-09-01). "Niche conservatism constrains Australian honeyeater assemblages in stressful environments". Ecology Letters. 16 (9): 1186–1194. doi:10.1111/ele.12156. ISSN 1461-0248. PMID 23848846.
  • Pagel, Mark (1999-10-28). "Inferring the historical patterns of biological evolution". Nature. 401 (6756): 877–884. Bibcode:1999Natur.401..877P. doi:10.1038/44766. hdl:2027.42/148253. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 10553904. S2CID 205034365.
  • Darwin, Charles (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (Full image view 1st ed.). London: John Murray. p. 502. ((cite book)): External link in |edition= (help)
  • Losos, Jonathan B. (2008). "Phylogenetic niche conservatism, phylogenetic signal and the relationship between phylogenetic relatedness and ecological similarity among species". Ecology Letters. 11 (10): 995–1007. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01229.x. PMID 18673385.
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Phylogenetic niche conservatism
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