Phylogenetic analysis of trophic niche evolution reveals a latitudinal herbivory gradient in Clupeoidei (herrings, anchovies, and allies)

Joshua P. Egan, Devin D. Bloom, Chien Hsien Kuo, Michael P. Hammer, Prasert Tongnunui, Samuel P. Iglésias, Marcus Sheaves, Chaiwut Grudpan, Andrew M Simons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


Biotic and abiotic forces govern the evolution of trophic niches, which profoundly impact ecological and evolutionary processes and aspects of species biology. Herbivory is a particularly interesting trophic niche because there are theorized trade-offs associated with diets comprised of low quality food that might prevent the evolution of herbivory in certain environments. Herbivory has also been identified as a potential evolutionary “dead-end” that hinders subsequent trophic diversification. For this study we investigated trophic niche evolution in Clupeoidei (anchovies, sardines, herrings, and their relatives) and tested the hypotheses that herbivory is negatively correlated with salinity and latitude using a novel, time-calibrated molecular phylogeny, trophic guilds delimited using diet data and cluster analysis, and standard and phylogenetically-informed statistical methods. We identified eight clupeoid trophic guilds: molluscivore, terrestrial invertivore, phytoplanktivore, macroalgivore, detritivore, piscivore, crustacivore, and zooplanktivore. Standard statistical methods found a significant negative correlation between latitude and the proportion of herbivorous clupeoids (herbivorous clupeoid species/total clupeoid species), but no significant difference in the proportion of herbivorous clupeoids between freshwater and marine environments. Phylogenetic least squares regression did not identify significant negative correlations between latitude and herbivory or salinity and herbivory. In clupeoids there were five evolutionary transitions from non-herbivore to herbivore guilds and no transitions from herbivore to non-herbivore guilds. There were no transitions to zooplanktivore, the most common guild, but it gave rise to all trophic guilds, except algivore, at least once. Transitions to herbivory comprised a significantly greater proportion of diet transitions in tropical and subtropical (<35°) relative to temperate areas (>35°). Our findings suggest cold temperatures may constrain the evolution of herbivory and that herbivory might act as an evolutionary “dead-end” that hinders subsequent trophic diversification, while zooplanktivory acts as an evolutionary “cradle” that facilitates trophic diversification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Clupeoidei
  • Diet transition
  • Herbivory
  • Latitudinal gradient
  • Phylogenetics
  • Trophic niche

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