Letter | Published:

Species coexistence and the dynamics of phenotypic evolution in adaptive radiation

Nature volume 506, pages 359363 (20 February 2014) | Download Citation



Interactions between species can promote evolutionary divergence of ecological traits and social signals1,2, a process widely assumed to generate species differences in adaptive radiation3,4,5. However, an alternative view is that lineages typically interact when relatively old6, by which time selection for divergence is weak7,8 and potentially exceeded by convergent selection acting on traits mediating interspecific competition9. Few studies have tested these contrasting predictions across large radiations, or by controlling for evolutionary time. Thus the role of species interactions in driving broad-scale patterns of trait divergence is unclear10. Here we use phylogenetic estimates of divergence times to show that increased trait differences among coexisting lineages of ovenbirds (Furnariidae) are explained by their greater evolutionary age in relation to non-interacting lineages, and that—when these temporal biases are accounted for—the only significant effect of coexistence is convergence in a social signal (song). Our results conflict with the conventional view that coexistence promotes trait divergence among co-occurring organisms at macroevolutionary scales, and instead provide evidence that species interactions can drive phenotypic convergence across entire radiations, a pattern generally concealed by biases in age.

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Data deposits

Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences for all lineages have been deposited in GenBank under accession numbers given in Supplementary Data 1.


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We thank G. Grether, J. Hadfield, S. Nakagawa, A. Phillimore, A. Pigot, R. Ricklefs, G. Thomas and S. West for comments and discussion. We are also indebted to the many individuals who collected specimens, tissue samples and sound recordings, and to numerous institutions (particularly the Macaulay Library, Cornell University) for granting access to this material. Complete acknowledgements and data sets are provided in the Supplementary Information. This research was supported by the John Fell Fund (to J.A.T.), the Browne Fellowship, Queen’s College, Oxford, and Vetenskapsrådet (to C.K.C.), the National Science Foundation (to R.T.B.) and the Royal Society (to N.S.).

Author information

Author notes

    • Joseph A. Tobias
    •  & Charlie K. Cornwallis

    These authors contributed equally to this study.


  1. Edward Grey Institute, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

    • Joseph A. Tobias
    • , Charlie K. Cornwallis
    •  & Nathalie Seddon
  2. Department of Biology, Lund University, Lund, SE-223 62, Sweden

    • Charlie K. Cornwallis
  3. Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA

    • Elizabeth P. Derryberry
    • , Santiago Claramunt
    •  & Robb T. Brumfield
  4. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118, USA

    • Elizabeth P. Derryberry
  5. Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA

    • Santiago Claramunt
    •  & Robb T. Brumfield
  6. Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York 10024, USA

    • Santiago Claramunt


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J.A.T. and N.S. conceived and designed the study, compiled and analysed song data, and integrated all data sets; S.C. provided morphometric data; E.P.D., S.C. and R.T.B. conducted molecular sequencing and phylogenetic analyses; C.C. designed and conducted statistical analyses, with significant input from N.S.; N.S., J.A.T. and C.C. produced figures and tables; J.A.T. prepared and edited the manuscript, with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph A. Tobias.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1-27, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Notes, Supplementary References and a Supplementary Code for Statistical Analyses.

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    Supplementary Data

    The file contains Supplementary Datasets 1-7 – see file for details.

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