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Evolutionary models demonstrate rapid and adaptive diversification of Australo-Papuan pythons


Esquerre, Damien; Brennan, Ian; Donnellan, Stephen; Keogh, Scott (2022), Evolutionary models demonstrate rapid and adaptive diversification of Australo-Papuan pythons, Dryad, Dataset,


Lineages may diversify when they encounter available ecological niches. Adaptive divergence by ecological opportunity often appears to follow the invasion of a new environment with open ecological space. This evolutionary process is hypothesized to explain the explosive diversification of numerous Australian vertebrate groups following the collision of the Eurasian and Australian plates 25 million years ago. One of these groups is the pythons, which demonstrate their greatest phenotypic and ecological diversity in Australo-Papua (Australia and New Guinea). Here, using an updated and near complete time-calibrated phylogenomic hypothesis of the group, we show that following invasion of this region, pythons experienced a sudden burst of speciation rates coupled with multiple instances of accelerated phenotypic evolution in head and body shape and body size. These results are consistent with adaptive radiation theory with an initial rapid niche filling phase and later slow-down approaching niche saturation. We discuss these findings in the context of other Australo-Papuan adaptive radiations and the importance of incorporating adaptive diversification systems that are not extraordinarily species-rich but ecomorphologically diverse to understand how biodiversity is generated.


Australian Research Council