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Keywords:

  • Adaptive radiation;
  • Appalachian Highlands;
  • community ecology;
  • comparative method;
  • North America;
  • phylogeography;
  • speciation.

Abstract An important dimension of adaptive radiation is the degree to which diversification rates fluctuate or remain constant through time. Focusing on plethodontid salamanders of the genus Desmognathus, we present a novel synthetic analysis of phylogeographic history, rates of ecomorphological evolution and species accumulation, and community assembly in an adaptive radiation. Dusky salamanders are highly variable in life history, body size, and ecology, with many endemic lineages in the southern Appalachian Highlands of eastern North America. Our results show that lifehistory evolution had important consequences for the buildup of plethodontid-salamander species richness and phenotypic disparity in eastern North America, a global hot spot of salamander biodiversity. The origin of Desmognathus species with aquatic larvae was followed by a high rate of lineage accumulation, which then gradually decreased toward the present time. The peak period of lineage accumulation in the group coincides with evolutionary partitioning of lineages with aquatic larvae into seepage, stream-edge, and stream microhabitats. Phylogenetic simulations demonstrate a strong correlation between morphology and microhabitat ecology independent of phylogenetic effects and suggest that ecomorphological changes are concentrated early in the radiation of Desmognathus. Deep phylogeographic fragmentation within many codistributed ecomorph clades suggests long-term persistence of ecomorphological features and stability of endemic lineages and communities through multiple climatic cycles. Phylogenetic analyses of community structure show that ecomorphological divergence promotes the coexistence of lineages and that repeated, independent evolution of microhabitat-associated ecomorphs has a limited role in the evolutionary assembly of Desmognathus communities. Comparing and contrasting our results to other adaptive radiations having different biogeographic histories, our results suggest that rates of diversification during adaptive radiation are intimately linked to the degree to which community structure persists over evolutionary time.