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The causes and ecological context of rapid morphological evolution in birds

Cite this dataset

Crouch, Nicholas; Tobias, Joseph (2022). The causes and ecological context of rapid morphological evolution in birds [Dataset]. Dryad.


Episodic pulses in morphological diversification are a prominent feature of evolutionary history, driven by factors that remain widely disputed. Resolving this question has proved challenging because comprehensive species-level data are generally unavailable at sufficient scale. Combining global phylogenetic and morphological data for birds, we show that pulses of diversification in lineages and traits tend to occur independently and in different contexts. Speciation pulses are preceded by greater differentiation in overall morphology and habitat niche, then followed by increased rates of beak evolution. Contrary to standard hypotheses, pulses of morphological diversification tend to be associated with habitat niche stability rather than adaptation to different diets and habitat types. These patterns suggest that the timing of diversification varies across traits according to their ecological function, and that pulses of morphological evolution may occur when successful lineages subdivide niche space within particular habitat types. Our results highlight the growing potential of functional trait data sets to refine macroevolutionary models.


Multivariate data sets were analyzed using BayesTraits with the posterior distribution of phylogenies provided.


Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/I028068/1 and NE/P004512/1 to JAT