Macroecology meets macroevolution: evolutionary niche dynamics in the seaweed Halimeda

Authors

  • Heroen Verbruggen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work

  • Lennert Tyberghein,

    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work

  • Klaas Pauly,

    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work

  • Caroline Vlaeminck,

    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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  • Katrien Van Nieuwenhuyze,

    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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  • Wiebe H.C.F. Kooistra,

    1. Stazione Zoologica ‘Anton Dohrn’, Villa Comunale, 80121 Naples, Italy
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  • Frederik Leliaert,

    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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  • Olivier De Clerck

    1. Phycology Research Group and Center for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S8 (WE11), B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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*Correspondence: Heroen Verbruggen, Phycology Research Group, Krijgslaan 281 S8, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.
E-mail: heroen.verbruggen@ugent.be

ABSTRACT

Aim  Because of their broad distribution in geographical and ecological dimensions, seaweeds (marine macroalgae) offer great potential as models for marine biogeographical inquiry and exploration of the interface between macroecology and macroevolution. This study aims to characterize evolutionary niche dynamics in the common green seaweed genus Halimeda, use the observed insights to gain understanding of the biogeographical history of the genus and predict habitats that can be targeted for the discovery of species of special biogeographical interest.

Location  Tropical and subtropical coastal waters.

Methods  The evolutionary history of the genus is characterized using molecular phylogenetics and relaxed molecular clock analysis. Niche modelling is carried out with maximum entropy techniques and uses macroecological data derived from global satellite imagery. Evolutionary niche dynamics are inferred through application of ancestral character state estimation.

Results  A nearly comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the genus was inferred from a six-locus dataset. Macroecological niche models showed that species distribution ranges are considerably smaller than their potential ranges. We show strong phylogenetic signal in various macroecological niche features.

Main conclusions  The evolution of Halimeda is characterized by conservatism for tropical, nutrient-depleted habitats, yet one section of the genus managed to invade colder habitats multiple times independently. Niche models indicate that the restricted geographical ranges of Halimeda species are not due to habitat unsuitability, strengthening the case for dispersal limitation. Niche models identified hotspots of habitat suitability of Caribbean species in the eastern Pacific Ocean. We propose that these hotspots be targeted for discovery of new species separated from their Caribbean siblings since the Pliocene rise of the Central American Isthmus.

Ancillary