Developmental life history is associated with variation in rates of climatic niche evolution in a salamander adaptive radiation*

Sam Weaver, Donald B. Shepard, Kenneth H. Kozak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Rates of climatic niche evolution vary widely across the tree of life and are strongly associated with rates of diversification among clades. However, why the climatic niche evolves more rapidly in some clades than others remains unclear. Variation in life history traits often plays a key role in determining the environmental conditions under which species can survive, and therefore, could impact the rate at which lineages can expand in available climatic niche space. Here, we explore the relationships among life-history variation, climatic niche breadth, and rates of climatic niche evolution. We reconstruct a phylogeny for the genus Desmognathus, an adaptive radiation of salamanders distributed across eastern North America, based on nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Using this phylogeny, we estimate rates of climatic niche evolution for species with long, short, and no aquatic larval stage. Rates of climatic niche evolution are unrelated to the mean climatic niche breadth of species with different life histories. Instead, we find that the evolution of a short larval period promotes greater exploration of climatic space, leading to increased rates of climatic niche evolution across species having this trait. We propose that morphological and physiological differences associated with variation in larval stage length underlie the heterogeneous ability of lineages to explore climatic niche space. Rapid rates of climatic niche evolution among species with short larval periods were an important dimension of the clade's adaptive radiation and likely contributed to the rapid rate of lineage accumulation following the evolution of an aquatic life history in this clade. Our results show how variation in a key life-history trait can constrain or promote divergence of the climatic niche, leading to variation in rates of climatic niche evolution among species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1804-1814
Number of pages11
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank D. Adams, Y. Brandvain, S. McGaugh, T. Radomski, L. Revell, M. Cardillo, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by National Science Foundation grant DEB094950 to K.H.K.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Evolution © 2020 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Amphibia
  • North America
  • climatic niche
  • evolutionary rates
  • life history

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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