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Keywords:

  • Comparative methods;
  • coral reefs;
  • evolutionary rates;
  • functional morphology;
  • Labridae

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 462–469

Abstract

Although coral reefs are renowned biodiversity hotspots it is not known whether they also promote the evolution of exceptional ecomorphological diversity. We investigated this question by analysing a large functional morphological dataset of trophic characters within Labridae, a highly diverse group of fishes. Using an analysis that accounts for species relationships, the time available for diversification and model uncertainty we show that coral reef species have evolved functional morphological diversity twice as fast as non-reef species. In addition, coral reef species occupy 68.6% more trophic morphospace than non-reef species. Our results suggest that coral reef habitats promote the evolution of both trophic novelty and morphological diversity within fishes. Thus, the preservation of coral reefs is necessary, not only to safeguard current biological diversity but also to conserve the underlying mechanisms that can produce functional diversity in future.