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  1. Abstract

    Many subspecies were described to capture phenotypic variation in wide-ranging taxa, with some later being found to correspond to divergent genetic lineages. We investigate whether currently recognized subspecies correspond to distinctive and coherent evolutionary lineages in the widespread Australian lizard Ctenotus pantherinus based on morphological, mitochondrial and genome-wide nuclear variation. We find weak and inconsistent correspondence between morphological patterns and the presumed subspecies ranges, with character polymorphism within regions and broad morphological overlap across regions. Phylogenetic analyses suggest paraphyly of populations assignable to each subspecies, mitonuclear discordance and little congruence between subspecies ranges and the distribution of inferred clades. Genotypic clustering supports admixture across regions. These results undermine the presumed phenotypic and genotypic coherence and distinctiveness of C. pantherinus subspecies. Based on our findings, we comment on the operational and conceptual shortcomings of morphologically defined subspecies and discuss practical challenges in applying the general notion of subspecies as incompletely separated population lineages. We conclude by highlighting a historical asymmetry that has implications for ecology, evolution and conservation: subspecies proposed in the past are difficult to falsify even in the face of new data that challenge their coherence and distinctiveness, whereas modern researchers appear hesitant to propose new subspecies.

     
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  2. Australia harbors the most diverse lizard assemblages on Earth, yet the biodiversity of its vast arid zone remains incompletely characterized. Recent sampling of remote regions has revealed new species with unique phenotypes and unclear evolutionary affinities. Here, we describe a new species of scincid lizard that appears to be widely distributed across the Great Victoria Desert and adjacent regions. The new species was previously overlooked among specimens of the wide-ranging desert taxon Ctenotus schomburgkii but is distinguished from it by coloration and scalation characters. Phylogenetic analyses based on mitochondrial and genome-wide nuclear loci confirmed that the new species is highly divergent from C. schomburgkii, with which it appears to be sympatric across much of its range. In addition to the new species, our survey of genetic variation within C. schomburgkii as currently recognized revealed three additional lineages that approach one another in southern and northwestern Australia, and which may also represent distinct species. These results suggest that our knowledge of the extraordinary biodiversity of arid Australia remains incomplete, with implications for the conservation and management of this unique fauna. The targeted collection of voucher specimens in undersampled regions, coupled with population genetic screening of lineage diversity, will be crucial for characterizing species boundaries and understanding the composition of Australia’s vertebrate communities. 
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  3. Rates of species formation vary widely across the tree of life and contribute to massive disparities in species richness among clades. This variation can emerge from differences in metapopulation-level processes that affect the rates at which lineages diverge, persist, and evolve reproductive barriers and ecological differentiation. For example, populations that evolve reproductive barriers quickly should form new species at faster rates than populations that acquire reproductive barriers more slowly. This expectation implicitly links microevolutionary processes (the evolution of populations) and macroevolutionary patterns (the profound disparity in speciation rate across taxa). Here, leveraging extensive field sampling from the Neotropical Cerrado biome in a biogeographically controlled natural experiment, we test the role of an important microevolutionary process—the propensity for population isolation—as a control on speciation rate in lizards and snakes. By quantifying population genomic structure across a set of codistributed taxa with extensive and phylogenetically independent variation in speciation rate, we show that broad-scale patterns of species formation are decoupled from demographic and genetic processes that promote the formation of population isolates. Population isolation is likely a critical stage of speciation for many taxa, but our results suggest that interspecific variability in the propensity for isolation has little influence on speciation rates. These results suggest that other stages of speciation—including the rate at which reproductive barriers evolve and the extent to which newly formed populations persist—are likely to play a larger role than population isolation in controlling speciation rate variation in squamates. 
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  4. Abstract

    Genomic‐scale datasets, sophisticated analytical techniques, and conceptual advances have disproportionately failed to resolve species boundaries in some groups relative to others. To understand the processes that underlie taxonomic intractability, we dissect the speciation history of an Australian lizard clade that arguably represents a “worst‐case” scenario for species delimitation within vertebrates: theCtenotus inornatusspecies group, a clade beset with decoupled genetic and phenotypic breaks, uncertain geographic ranges, and parallelism in purportedly diagnostic morphological characters. We sampled hundreds of localities to generate a genomic perspective on population divergence, structure, and admixture. Our results revealed rampant paraphyly of nominate taxa in the group, with lineages that are either morphologically cryptic or polytypic. Isolation‐by‐distance patterns reflect spatially continuous differentiation among certain pairs of putative species, yet genetic and geographic distances are decoupled in other pairs. Comparisons of mitochondrial and nuclear gene trees, tests of nuclear introgression, and historical demographic modelling identified gene flow between divergent candidate species. Levels of admixture are decoupled from phylogenetic relatedness; gene flow is often higher between sympatric species than between parapatric populations of the same species. Such idiosyncratic patterns of introgression contribute to species boundaries that are fuzzy while also varying in fuzziness. Our results suggest that “taxonomic disaster zones” like theC. inornatusspecies group result from spatial variation in the porosity of species boundaries and the resulting patterns of genetic and phenotypic variation. This study raises questions about the origin and persistence of hybridizing species and highlights the unique insights provided by taxa that have long eluded straightforward taxonomic categorization.

     
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  5. Abstract

    The effects of genetic introgression on species boundaries and how they affect species’ integrity and persistence over evolutionary time have received increased attention. The increasing availability of genomic data has revealed contrasting patterns of gene flow across genomic regions, which impose challenges to inferences of evolutionary relationships and of patterns of genetic admixture across lineages. By characterizing patterns of variation across thousands of genomic loci in a widespread complex of true toads (Rhinella), we assess the true extent of genetic introgression across species thought to hybridize to extreme degrees based on natural history observations and multilocus analyses. Comprehensive geographic sampling of five large‐ranged Neotropical taxa revealed multiple distinct evolutionary lineages that span large geographic areas and, at times, distinct biomes. The inferred major clades and genetic clusters largely correspond to currently recognized taxa; however, we also found evidence of cryptic diversity within taxa. While previous phylogenetic studies revealed extensive mitonuclear discordance, our genetic clustering analyses uncovered several admixed individuals within major genetic groups. Accordingly, historical demographic analyses supported that the evolutionary history of these toads involved cross‐taxon gene flow both at ancient and recent times. Lastly, ABBA‐BABA tests revealed widespread allele sharing across species boundaries, a pattern that can be confidently attributed to genetic introgression as opposed to incomplete lineage sorting. These results confirm previous assertions that the evolutionary history ofRhinellawas characterized by various levels of hybridization even across environmentally heterogeneous regions, posing exciting questions about what factors prevent complete fusion of diverging yet highly interdependent evolutionary lineages.

     
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