Aclassic paradigm in evolutionary biology is that geographically isolated clades inhabiting similar selective regimes will diversify to create similar sets of phenotypes in different locations (e.g., similar stickleback species in different lakes, similar Anolis ecomorphs on different islands). Such parallel radiations are not generally expected to occur in sympatry because the available niche space would be filled by whichever clade is diversified first. Here, we document a very different pattern, the parallel evolution of similar body-size morphs in three sympatric clades of plethodontid salamanders (Desmognathus, Plethodon, Spelerpinae) in eastern North America. Using a comprehensive, time-calibrated phylogeny of North American plethodontids from nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences, we show that these three clades have undergone replicated patterns of evolution in body size and that this parallel diversification occurred in broad-scale sympatry. At the local scale, we find that coexisting species from these clades are more similar in body size than expected under a null model in which species are randomly assembled into communities. These patterns are particularly surprising in that competition is known to be important in driving phenotypic diversification and limiting local coexistence of similar-sized species within these clades. Although parallel diversification of sympatric clades may seem counterintuitive, we discuss several ecological and evolutionary factors that may allow the phenomenon to occur.
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