Letter | Published:

Accelerated speciation in colour-polymorphic birds

Nature volume 485, pages 631634 (31 May 2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Colour polymorphism exemplifies extreme morphological diversity within populations1,2. It is taxonomically widespread but generally rare. Theory suggests that where colour polymorphism does occur, processes generating and maintaining it can promote speciation but the generality of this claim is unclear1. Here we confirm, using species-level molecular phylogenies for five families of non-passerine birds, that colour polymorphism is associated with accelerated speciation rates in the three groups in which polymorphism is most prevalent. In all five groups, colour polymorphism is lost at a significantly greater rate than it is gained. Thus, the general rarity and phylogenetic dispersion of colour polymorphism is accounted for by a combination of higher speciation rate and higher transition rate from polymorphism to monomorphism, consistent with theoretical models where speciation is driven by fixation of one or more morphs3. This is corroborated by evidence from a species-level molecular phylogeny of passerines, incorporating 4,128 (66.5%) extant species, that polymorphic species tend to be younger than monomorphic species. Our results provide empirical support for the general proposition, dating from classical evolutionary theory2,4,5,6, that colour polymorphism can increase speciation rates.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Elgar, J. Endler, L. Joseph, A. Moussalli, A. Phillimore, S. Pryke and D. Rabosky for critical comments. This work was supported by the Australian Research Council (DP1092908).

Author information

Author notes

    • Andrew F. Hugall

    Present address: Sciences Department, Melbourne Museum, Melbourne, Victoria 3053, Australia.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

    • Andrew F. Hugall
    •  & Devi Stuart-Fox

Authors

  1. Search for Andrew F. Hugall in:

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Contributions

A.F.H. constructed phylogenies, conducted diversification analyses, wrote the Methods, Supplementary Information and edited the main manuscript. D.S.-F. conceived and funded the project, wrote the main manuscript and edited remaining sections. Both authors contributed to interpretation of results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Andrew F. Hugall or Devi Stuart-Fox.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-7, Supplementary Figures 1-7, Supplementary Text and Supplementary Methods. Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 show sampling and summary statistics from diversification analyses; Supplementary Figure 1 and the Supplementary Text show the effects of sampling; and Supplementary Figure 1 also shows phylogenetic uncertainty. The Supplementary Methods contain detailed phylogenetic methods; Supplementary Tables S3-S7 and Supplementary Figure S2 contain summary statistics and additional information for phylogeny reconstruction; and Supplementary Figures S3-S7 contain phylogenies for the Accipitridae, Strigiformes, Caprimulgiformes, Falconidae and Galliformes.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains newick format trees with node support values for the Strigiformes, Caprimulgiformes, Falconidae, Galliformes and four passerine trees: Lower Oscines-Corvoidea, Passeroidea, Suboscines; Genus-level tree.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11050

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