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Keywords:

  • Diversification;
  • microbial macroevolution;
  • phylogeny;
  • radiation

The current diversity of life on earth is the product of macroevolutionary processes that have shaped the dynamics of diversification. Although the tempo of diversification has been studied extensively in macroorganisms, much less is known about the rates of diversification in the exceedingly diverse and species-rich microbiota. Decreases in diversification rates over time, a signature of explosive radiations, are commonly observed in plant and animal lineages. However, the few existing analyses of microbial lineages suggest that the tempo of diversification in prokaryotes may be fundamentally different. Here, we use multilocus and genomic sequence data to test hypotheses about the rate of diversification in a well-studied pathogenic bacterial lineage, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (sl). Our analyses support the hypothesis that an explosive radiation of lineages occurred near the origin of the clade, followed by a sharp decay in diversification rates. These results suggest that explosive radiations may be a general feature of evolutionary history across the tree of life.