Tempo and mode of morphological evolution are decoupled from latitude in birds

PLoS Biol. 2021 Aug 24;19(8):e3001270. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001270. eCollection 2021 Aug.


The latitudinal diversity gradient is one of the most striking patterns in nature, yet its implications for morphological evolution are poorly understood. In particular, it has been proposed that an increased intensity of species interactions in tropical biota may either promote or constrain trait evolution, but which of these outcomes predominates remains uncertain. Here, we develop tools for fitting phylogenetic models of phenotypic evolution in which the impact of species interactions-namely, competition-can vary across lineages. Deploying these models on a global avian trait dataset to explore differences in trait divergence between tropical and temperate lineages, we find that the effect of latitude on the mode and tempo of morphological evolution is weak and clade- or trait dependent. Our results indicate that species interactions do not disproportionately impact morphological evolution in tropical bird families and question the validity of previously reported patterns of slower trait evolution in the tropics.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phenotype*
  • Sympatry

Grant support

This research was funded by the European Research Council (616419-PANDA to HM) and Natural Environment Research Council (NE/I028068/1 and NE/P004512/1 to JAT). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.