Recent and rapid speciation with limited morphological disparity in the genus rattus

  • Rowe K
  • Aplin K
  • Baverstock P
 et al. 
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Recent and rapid radiations provide rich material to examine the factors that drive speciation. Most recent and rapid radiations that have been well-characterized involve species that exhibit overt ecomorphological differences associated with clear partitioning of ecological niches in sympatry. The most diverse genus of rodents, Rattus (66 species), evolved fairly recently, but without overt ecomorphological divergence among species. We used multilocus molecular phylogenetic data and five fossil calibrations to estimate the tempo of diversification in Rattus, and their radiation on Australia and New Guinea (Sahul, 24 species). Based on our analyses, the genus Rattus originated at a date centered on the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary (1.84-3.17 Ma) with a subsequent colonization of Sahul in the middle Pleistocene (0.85-1.28 Ma). Given these dates, the per lineage diversification rates in Rattus and Sahulian Rattus are among the highest reported for vertebrates (1.1-1.9 and 1.6-3.0 species per lineage per million years, respectively). Despite their rapid diversification, Rattus display little ecomorphological divergence among species and do not fit clearly into current models of adaptive radiations. Lineage through time plots and ancestral state reconstruction of ecological characters suggest that diversification of Sahulian Rattus was most rapid early on as they expanded into novel ecological conditions. However, rapid lineage accumulation occurred even when morphological disparity within lineages was low suggesting that future studies consider other phenotypes in the diversification of Rattus.

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  • Kevin C. Rowe

  • Ken P. Aplin

  • Peter R. Baverstock

  • Craig Moritz

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