Refugial isolation versus ecological gradients

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Abstract

Hypotheses for divergence and speciation in rainforests generally fall into two categories: those emphasizing the role of geographic isolation and those emphasizing the role of divergent selection along gradients. While a majority of studies have attempted to infer mechanisms based on the pattern of species richness and congruence of geographic boundaries, relatively few have tried to simultaneously test alternative hypotheses for diversification. Here we discuss four examples, taken from our work on diversification of tropical rainforest vertebrates, in which we examine patterns of genetic and morphological variation within and between biogeographic regions to address two alternative hypotheses. By estimating morphological divergence between geographically contiguous and isolated populations under similar and different ecological conditions, we attempt to evaluate the relative roles of geographic isolation and natural selection in population divergence. Results suggest that natural selection, even in the presence of appreciable gene flow, can result in morphological divergence that is greater than that found between populations isolated for millions of years and, in some cases, even greater than that found between congeneric, but distinct, species. The relatively small phenotypic divergence that occurs among long-term geographic isolates in similar habitats suggests that morphological divergence via drift may be negligible and/or that selection is acting to produce similar phenotypes in populations occupying similar habitats. Our results demonstrate that significant phenotypic divergence: (1) is not necessarily coupled with divergence in neutral molecular markers; and (2) can occur without geographic isolation in the presence of gene flow.