Detecting non-Brownian trait evolution in adaptive radiations

PLoS Biol. 2006 Nov;4(11):e373. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0040373.


Many phylogenetic comparative methods that are currently widely used in the scientific literature assume a Brownian motion model for trait evolution, but the suitability of that model is rarely tested, and a number of important factors might affect whether this model is appropriate or not. For instance, we might expect evolutionary change in adaptive radiations to be driven by the availability of ecological niches. Such evolution has been shown to produce patterns of change that are different from those modelled by the Brownian process. We applied two tests for the assumption of Brownian motion that generally have high power to reject data generated under non-Brownian niche-filling models for the evolution of traits in adaptive radiations. As a case study, we used these tests to explore the evolution of feeding adaptations in two radiations of warblers. In one case, the patterns revealed do not accord with Brownian motion but show characteristics expected under certain niche-filling models.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / radiation effects*
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Ecosystem
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Radiation*
  • Radiobiology
  • Random Allocation
  • Songbirds / genetics
  • Songbirds / physiology