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Diversification on an ecologically constrained adaptive landscape


  • G.A. Wellborn and R.E. Broughton contributed equally to this work.

Gary A. Wellborn, Fax: (405) 325-6202; E-mail:


We used phylogenetic analysis of body-size ecomorphs in a crustacean species complex to gain insight into how spatial complexity of ecological processes generates and maintains biological diversity. Studies of geographically widespread species of Hyalella amphipods show that phenotypic evolution is tightly constrained in a manner consistent with adaptive responses to alternative predation regimes. A molecular phylogeny indicates that evolution of Hyalella ecomorphs is characterized by parallel evolution and by phenotypic stasis despite substantial levels of underlying molecular change. The phylogeny suggests that species diversification sometimes occurs by niche shifts, and sometimes occurs without a change in niche. Moreover, diversification in the Hyalella ecomorphs has involved the repeated evolution of similar phenotypic forms that exist in similar ecological settings, a hallmark of adaptive evolution. The evolutionary stasis observed in clades separated by substantial genetic divergence, but existing in similar habitats, is also suggestive of stabilizing natural selection acting to constrain phenotypic evolution within narrow bounds. We interpret the observed decoupling of genetic and phenotypic diversification in terms of adaptive radiation on an ecologically constrained adaptive landscape, and suggest that ecological constraints, perhaps acting together with genetic and functional constraints, may explain the parallel evolution and evolutionary stasis inferred by the phylogeny.