Renewed diversification is associated with new ecological opportunity in the Neotropical turtle ants

Authors

  • S. L. Price,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
    2. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
    • Correspondence: Shauna L. Price, Department of Biological Sciences, George Washington University, 2023 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA. Tel.: +1 202-994-9216; fax: +1 202-994-6100;

      e-mail: slprice@gmail.com

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  • S. Powell,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
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  • D. J. C. Kronauer,

    1. Laboratory of Insect Social Evolution, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA
    2. Museum of Comparative Zoology Labs, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
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  • L. A. P. Tran,

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
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  • N. E. Pierce,

    1. Museum of Comparative Zoology Labs, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
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  • R. K. Wayne

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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Abstract

Ecological opportunity, defined as access to new resources free from competitors, is thought to be a catalyst for the process of adaptive radiation. Much of what we know about ecological opportunity, and the larger process of adaptive radiation, is derived from vertebrate diversification on islands. Here, we examine lineage diversification in the turtle ants (Cephalotes), a species-rich group of ants that has diversified throughout the Neotropics. We show that crown group turtle ants originated during the Eocene (around 46 mya), coincident with global warming and the origin of many other clades. We also show a marked lineage-wide slowdown in diversification rates in the Miocene. Contrasting this overall pattern, a species group associated with the young and seasonally harsh Chacoan biogeographic region underwent a recent burst of diversification. Subsequent analyses also indicated that there is significant phylogenetic clustering within the Chacoan region and that speciation rates are highest there. Together, these findings suggest that recent ecological opportunity, from successful colonization of novel habitat, may have facilitated renewed turtle ant diversification. Our findings highlight a central role of ecological opportunity within a successful continental radiation.

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