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Thinking in continua: beyond the “adaptive radiation” metaphor

Authors

  • Mark E. Olson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Tercer Circuito s/n de CU, México DF 04510, Mexico
    • Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Tercer Circuito s/n de CU, México DF 04510, Mexico.
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  • Alfonso Arroyo-Santos

    1. Posgrado en Filosofía de la Ciencia, Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n de CU, México DF 04510, Mexico
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Abstract

“Adaptive radiation” is an evocative metaphor for explosive evolutionary divergence, which for over 100 years has given a powerful heuristic to countless scientists working on all types of organisms at all phylogenetic levels. However, success has come at the price of making “adaptive radiation” so vague that it can no longer reflect the detailed results yielded by powerful new phylogeny-based techniques that quantify continuous adaptive radiation variables such as speciation rate, phylogenetic tree shape, and morphological diversity. Attempts to shoehorn the results of these techniques into categorical “adaptive radiation: yes/no” schemes lead to reification, in which arbitrary quantitative thresholds are regarded as real. Our account of the life cycle of metaphors in science suggests that it is time to exchange the spent metaphor for new concepts that better represent the full range of diversity, disparity, and speciation rate across all of life.

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