Niche divergence and lineage diversification among closely related Sistrurus rattlesnakes


H. Lisle Gibbs, Department EEOB, Ohio State University, 318 W. 12th Ave, Columbus, OH 43210-1293, USA. Tel.: +614 688 3861; fax: +614 292 2030; e-mail:


Comparing niche divergence among closely related taxa can yield important insights into the ecological distinctiveness of genetically similar forms, and identify the processes that are responsible for diversification in such organisms. Here, we apply newly developed techniques for analysing niche divergence to assess how ecologically distinct a group of closely related rattlesnakes (Sistrurus sp.) are and to explore the role that niche divergence may have played in their diversification. We find that all taxa even the most recently evolved subspecies (approximately 100 000 years old) are now ecologically distinct, implying a role for ecology in the diversification process. Statistical analysis based on comparisons with null models show that niche divergence between forms is more common than niche conservation. Finally, there is nonlinear relationship between phylogenetic and niche divergence in this group whereby niche divergence develops more rapidly between recently diverged subspecies than more distantly related forms. Overall, our results argue that ecology may play an important role in the diversification process in these snakes.