• Adaptive radiation;
  • Arini;
  • colonization;
  • continental radiation;
  • diversification rate;
  • ecological opportunity;
  • morphological evolution;
  • Neotropical region;
  • parrots



The Neotropical parrots (Arini) are an unusually diverse group which colonized South America in the Oligocene. The newly invaded Neotropics may have functioned as an underused adaptive zone and provided novel ecological opportunities that facilitated diversification. Alternatively, diversification may have been driven by ecological changes caused by Andean uplift and/or climate change from the Miocene onwards. Our aim was to find out whether Arini diversified in a classical adaptive radiation after their colonization of South America, or whether their diversification occurred later and was influenced by more recent environmental change.




We generated a time-calibrated phylogeny of more than 80% of all Arini species in order to analyse lineage diversification. This chronogram was also used as the basis for the reconstruction of morphological evolution within Arini using a multivariate ratio analysis of three size measurements.


We found a concentration of size evolution and partitioning of size niches in the early history of Arini consistent with the process of adaptive radiation, but there were no signs of an early burst of speciation or a decrease in speciation rates through time. Although we detected no overall temporal shifts in diversification rates, we discovered two young, unexpectedly species-rich clades.

Main conclusions

Arini show signs of an early adaptive radiation, but we found no evidence of the slowdown in speciation rate generally considered a feature of island or lake radiations. Historical processes and environmental change from the Miocene onwards may have kept diversification rates roughly constant ever since the colonization of the Neotropics. Thus, Arini may not yet have reached equilibrium diversity. The lack of diversity-dependent speciation might be a general feature of adaptive radiations on a continental scale, and diversification processes on continents might therefore not be as ecologically limited as in isolated lakes or on oceanic islands.