Patiño, J., Wang, J., Renner, M., Gradstein, S.R., Laenen, B., Devos, N., Shaw, J.A. & Vanderpoorten, A. (2017) Range size heritability and diversification patterns in the liverwort genus Radula.Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 106, 73-85. DOI:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.09.020 (IF2017 4,412; Q1 Evolutionary Biology)
Why some species exhibit larger geographical ranges than others, and to what extent does variation in range size affect diversification rates, remains a fundamental, but largely unanswered question in ecology and evolution. Here, we implement phylogenetic comparative analyses and ancestral area estimations in Radula, a liverwort genus of Cretaceous origin, to investigate the mechanisms that explain differences in geographical range size and diversification rates among lineages. Range size was phylogenetically constrained in the two sub-genera characterized by their almost complete Australasian and Neotropical endemicity, respectively. The congruence between the divergence time of these lineages and continental split suggests that plate tectonics could have played a major role in their present distribution, suggesting that a strong imprint of vicariance can still be found in extant distribution patterns in these highly mobile organisms. Amentuloradula, Volutoradula and Metaradula species did not appear to exhibit losses of dispersal capacities in terms of dispersal life-history traits, but evidence for significant phylogenetic signal in macroecological niche traits suggests that niche conservatism accounts for their restricted geographic ranges. Despite their greatly restricted distribution to Australasia and Neotropics respectively, Amentuloradula and Volutoradula did not exhibit significantly lower diversification rates than more widespread lineages, in contrast with the hypothesis that the probability of speciation increases with range size by promoting geographic isolation and increasing the rate at which novel habitats are encountered. We suggest that stochastic long-distance dispersal events may balance allele frequencies across large spatial scales, leading to low genetic structure among geographically distant areas or even continents, ultimately decreasing the diversification rates in highly mobile, widespread lineages.