CONVERGENT EVOLUTION AS A GENERATOR OF PHENOTYPIC DIVERSITY IN THREESPINE STICKLEBACK

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Abstract

Convergent evolution, in which populations produce similar phenotypes in response to similar selection pressure, is strong evidence for the role of natural selection in shaping biological diversity. In some cases, closely related populations can produce functionally similar but phenotypically divergence forms in response to selection. Functional convergence with morphological divergence has been observed in laboratory selection experiments and computer simulations, but while potentially common, is rarely recognized in nature. Here, we present data from the North Pacific threespine stickleback radiation showing that ecologically and functionally similar, but morphologically divergent phenotypes rapidly evolved when an ancestral population colonized freshwater benthic habitats in parallel. In addition, we show that in this system, functional convergence substantially increases morphospace occupation relative to ancestral phenotypes, which suggests that convergent evolution may, paradoxically, be an important and previously underappreciated source of morphological diversity.

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