Key innovations and island colonization as engines of evolutionary diversification: a comparative test with the Australasian diplodactyloid geckos


  • J. Garcia-Porta,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Evolutionary Biology, (CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
    • Correspondence: Joan Garcia-Porta, Institute of Evolutionary Biology, CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. Tel.: +34 93 230 95 00 (ext. 6034); fax: +34 93 230 95 55; e-mail:

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  • T. J. Ord

    1. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre and the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
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The acquisition of key innovations and the invasion of new areas constitute two major processes that facilitate ecological opportunity and subsequent evolutionary diversification. Using a major lizard radiation as a model, the Australasian diplodactyloid geckos, we explored the effects of two key innovations (adhesive toepads and a snake-like phenotype) and the invasion of new environments (island colonization) in promoting the evolution of phenotypic and species diversity. We found no evidence that toepads had significantly increased evolutionary diversification, which challenges the common assumption that the evolution of toepads has been responsible for the extensive radiation of geckos. In contrast, a snakelike phenotype was associated with increased rates of body size evolution and, to a lesser extent, species diversification. However, the clearest impact on evolutionary diversification has been the colonization of New Zealand and New Caledonia, which were associated with increased rates of both body size evolution and species diversification. This highlights that colonizing new environments can drive adaptive diversification in conjunction or independently of the evolution of a key innovation. Studies wishing to confirm the putative link between a key innovation and subsequent evolutionary diversification must therefore show that it has been the acquisition of an innovation specifically, not the colonization of new areas more generally, that has prompted diversification.