Divergent lineages and conserved niches: using ecological niche modeling to examine the evolutionary patterns of the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus)
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- Dowell, S.A. & Hekkala, E.R. Evol Ecol (2016) 30: 471. doi:10.1007/s10682-016-9818-7
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Ecological niche modeling is a useful tool that can support phylogeographic analyses, offering insight into the evolutionary processes that have generated present-day patterns of biodiversity. Findings of ecological divergence across evolutionary lineages can be utilized to bolster inferences of parapatric or sympatric modes of speciation, and provide support for species-level classifications. Conversely, conserved ecological niches across evolutionary timescales are thought to have facilitated allopatric speciation. Here, we examined the climatic niche of three genetic lineages of the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) to better understand the processes involved in generating patterns of genetic variation, and to potentially clarify their taxonomic status. We built ecological niche models using genetically confirmed occurrence points from the three evolutionary lineages of V. niloticus, occupying the western, northern, and southern regions of Africa. Pairwise comparisons of climatic niche overlap provided evidence in support of niche conservatism across all V. niloticus lineages. These findings are consistent with an allopatric mode of differentiation. Furthermore, climatic niche conservatism could have played a role in isolating V. niloticus populations during historic climate oscillations, generating the observed genetic patterns across Africa.