Convergent evolution associated with habitat decouples phenotype from phylogeny in a clade of lizards

Edwards, Shelley ; Vanhooydonck, Bieke ; Herrel, Anthony ; Measey, G. John ; Tolley, Krystal A. (2012-12-12)

CITATION: Edwards, S., et al. 2012. Convergent evolution associated with habitat decouples phenotype from phylogeny in a clade of lizards. PLoS ONE, 7(12): 1-9, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051636.

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Convergent evolution can explain similarity in morphology between species, due to selection on a fitness-enhancing phenotype in response to local environmental conditions. As selective pressures on body morphology may be strong, these have confounded our understanding of the evolutionary relationships between species. Within the speciose African radiation of lacertid lizards (Eremiadini), some species occupy a narrow habitat range (e.g. open habitat, cluttered habitat, strictly rupicolous, or strictly psammophilic), which may exert strong selective pressures on lizard body morphology. Here we show that the overall body plan is unrelated to shared ancestry in the African radiation of Eremiadini, but is instead coupled to habitat use. Comprehensive Bayesian and likelihood phylogenies using multiple representatives from all genera (2 nuclear, 2 mitochondrial markers) show that morphologically convergent species thought to represent sister taxa within the same genus are distantly related evolutionary lineages (Ichnotropis squamulosa and Ichnotropis spp.; Australolacerta rupicola and A. australis). Hierarchical clustering and multivariate analysis of morphological characters suggest that body, and head, width and height (stockiness), all of which are ecologically relevant with respect to movement through habitat, are similar between the genetically distant species. Our data show that convergence in morphology, due to adaptation to similar environments, has confounded the assignment of species leading to misidentification of the taxonomic position of I. squamulosa and the Australolacerta species.

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