Ecological opportunity and diversification in a continental radiation of birds: Climbing adaptations and cladogenesis in the furnariidae

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Ecological theories of adaptive radiation predict that ecological opportunity stimulates cladogenesis through its effects on competitive release and niche expansion. Given that key innovations may confer ecological opportunity, we investigated the effect of the acquisition of climbing adaptations on rates of cladogenesis in a major avian radiation, the Neotropical bird family Furnariidae, using a species-level phylogeny. Morphological specializations for vertical climbing originated in the woodcreepers ~23 million years ago, well before that adaptation occurred in woodpeckers (Picidae) or in other potential competitors in South America. This suggests that the acquisition of climbing adaptations conferred ample ecological opportunity to early woodcreepers. Nonetheless, we found that increases in speciation rates in Furnariidae did not coincide with the acquisition of climbing adaptations and that the relationship between the accumulation of climbing adaptations and rates of speciation was negative. In addition, we did not detect a diversity-dependent decline in woodcreeper diversification rates consistent with saturation of the trunk-climbing niche. These findings do not support the hypothesis that ecological opportunity related to trunk foraging stimulated cladogenesis in this radiation. The negative effect of climbing on diversification may be mediated by an indirect positive effect of climbing on dispersal ability, which may reduce speciation rates over evolutionary timescales. © 2012 by The University of Chicago.

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American Naturalist

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