Evolution 2016: Niche and Morphological Evolution in a Phylogenetic Context in Liolaemus


Photo by Nsimean

It’s true, they’re not anoles, but lizards of the genus Liolaemus form another extremely diverse clade, occupying one of the broadest climatic and elevational niche ranges of any vertebrate. Whether the ecological and phenotypic diversity of this genus are correlated, as is the case in adaptive radiation, remains an open question. Studies of the whole genus have shown that body size diversification is consistent with expansion into different ecophysiological niches, but other morphological traits don’t show the same pattern. Yet much of the ecology of the genus is unknown, so it is difficult to draw any definite conclusions.

In her talk “Evolution of niche and ecomorphological traits in a phylogenetic context in lizards of the Liolaemus bibroni complex,” Dan Edwards sought to address this gap in understanding of Liolaemus by focusing on one species complex within the genus, L. bibroni. The L. bibroni species group is composed of 26 species that occupy a broad range of habitats representative of those occupied by the genus as a whole. To explore their history of genetic and morphological diversification, Edwards constructed a phylogeny of the group, characterized rates of diversification, and measured a suite of relevant morphological traits. She found that there has been an increase in trait diversification over time, consistent with the colonization of new habitat types. In addition, she found that ecology and body size are significantly correlated, supporting previous results from studies of the genus as a whole. Other morphological traits were not as clearly associated with habitat type, but there do appear to be possible patterns of ecomorphological divergence in response to divergence in habitat. Edwards plans to further characterize the evolutionary relationships and explore more ecomorphological traits of Liolaemus species to resolve this question.

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