Aim Despite the importance of the niche concept in ecological and evolutionary theory, there are still many discussions about its definition and operational evaluation, especially when dealing with niche divergence and conservatism in an explicit phylogenetic context. Here we evaluate patterns of niche evolution in 67 New World Carnivora species, measured using Hellinger distances based on MAXENT models of species distribution. We show how inferences on niche conservatism or divergence depend on the way phylogenetic patterns are analysed using matrix comparison techniques.
Innovation Initially we used the simplest approach of Mantel tests to compare Hellinger distances (N) derived from MAXENT and phylogenetic distances (P) among species. Then we extended the Mantel test to generate a multivariate correlogram, in which phylogenetic patterns are analysed at multiple levels in the phylogeny and can reveal nonlinearity in the relationship between divergence and time. Finally, we proposed a new approach to generate ‘local’ (or ‘specific’) leverages of components for Mantel correlation, evaluating the non-stationarity in the relationship between N and P for each species. This new approach was used to show if some lineages are more prone to niche shift or conservatism than others.
Main conclusions Standard Mantel tests indicated a poor correspondence between N and P matrices, discarding the idea of niche conservatism for Carnivora, but the correlogram supports that closely related species tend to be more similar than expected by chance. Moreover, the variance among Hellinger distances between pairs of closely phylogenetically related species is much larger than for the entire clade. Phylogenetic non-stationarity analysis shows that in some Carnivora families the niche tends to divergence (Mustelidae and Canidae), whereas in others it tends to conservatism (Procyonidae and Mustelidae) at short phylogenetic distances. Our analyses clearly show that misleading results may appear if niche divergence is analysed only by simple matrix correlations not taking into account complex patterns of phylogenetic nonlinearity and non-stationarity.