When should we expect early bursts of trait evolution in comparative data? Predictions from an evolutionary food web model

J Evol Biol. 2012 Sep;25(9):1902-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02566.x. Epub 2012 Jul 11.


Conceptual models of adaptive radiation predict that competitive interactions among species will result in an early burst of speciation and trait evolution followed by a slowdown in diversification rates. Empirical studies often show early accumulation of lineages in phylogenetic trees, but usually fail to detect early bursts of phenotypic evolution. We use an evolutionary simulation model to assemble food webs through adaptive radiation, and examine patterns in the resulting phylogenetic trees and species' traits (body size and trophic position). We find that when foraging trade-offs result in food webs where all species occupy integer trophic levels, lineage diversity and trait disparity are concentrated early in the tree, consistent with the early burst model. In contrast, in food webs in which many omnivorous species feed at multiple trophic levels, high levels of turnover of species' identities and traits tend to eliminate the early burst signal. These results suggest testable predictions about how the niche structure of ecological communities may be reflected by macroevolutionary patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biota
  • Body Size
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Empirical Research
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Food Chain*
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phylogeny
  • Population Dynamics
  • Time Factors