The effect of habitat on modern shark diversification

J Evol Biol. 2014 Aug;27(8):1536-48. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12405. Epub 2014 May 30.


Sharks occupy marine habitats ranging from shallow, inshore environments to pelagic, and deepwaters, and thus provide a model system for testing how gross habitat differences have shaped vertebrate macroevolution. Palaeontological studies have shown that onshore lineages diversify more quickly than offshore taxa. Among onshore habitats, coral reef-association has been shown to increase speciation rates in several groups of fishes and invertebrates. In this study, we investigated whether speciation rates are habitat dependent by generating the first comprehensive molecular timescale for shark divergence. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we rejected the hypothesis that shelf (i.e. onshore) lineages have higher speciation rates compared to those occupying deepwater and oceanic (i.e. offshore) habitats. Our results, however, support the hypothesis of increased speciation rates in coral reef-associated lineages within the Carcharhinidae. Our new timetree suggests that the two major shark lineages leading to the extant shark diversity began diversifying mostly after the end-Permian mass extinction: the squalimorphs into deepwater and the galeomorphs into shelf habitats. We suggest that the breakdown of the onshore-offshore speciation rate pattern in sharks is mediated by success in deepwater environments through ecological partitioning, and in some cases, the evolution of morphological novelty.

Keywords: comparative methods; coral reefs; divergence time; elasmobranchs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Coral Reefs
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Geography
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sharks / genetics
  • Sharks / physiology*