Linking life-history traits, ecology, and niche breadth evolution in North American eriogonoids (Polygonaceae)

Am Nat. 2013 Dec;182(6):760-74. doi: 10.1086/673527. Epub 2013 Oct 23.


Macroevolutionary and microevolutionary studies provide complementary explanations of the processes shaping the evolution of niche breadth. Macroevolutionary approaches scrutinize factors such as the temporal and spatial environmental heterogeneities that drive differentiation among species. Microevolutionary studies, in contrast, focus on the processes that affect intraspecific variability. We combine these perspectives by using macroevolutionary models in a comparative study of intraspecific variability. We address potential differences in rates of evolution of niche breadth and position in annual and perennial plants of the Eriogonoideae subfamily of the Polygonaceae. We anticipated higher rates of evolution in annuals than in perennials owing to differences in generation time that are paralleled by rates of molecular evolution. Instead, we found that perennial eriogonoid species present greater environmental tolerance (wider climate niche) than annual species. Niche breadth of perennial species has evolved two to four times faster than in annuals, while niche optimum has diversified more rapidly among annual species than among perennials. Niche breadth and average elevation of species are correlated. Moreover, niche breadth increases more rapidly with mean species elevation in perennials than in annuals. Our results suggest that both environmental gradients and life-history strategy influence rates and patterns of niche breadth evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Climate
  • Environment
  • Geography
  • Models, Biological
  • North America
  • Phylogeny
  • Polygonaceae / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity