Whether ecological differences between species evolve in parallel with lineage diversification is a fundamental issue in evolutionary biology. These processes might be connected if conditions that favor the proliferation of species, such as release from competitors, facilitate the evolution of novel ecological relationships. Despite this, phylogenetic studies do not consistently identify such a connection. Conversely, if higher diversity caused species to become increasingly specialized ecologically, then lineage diversification might become dissociated from ecological diversification. In this analysis, we ask whether the rate of lineage diversification in a large clade of birds is correlated with morphological specialization and with rates of morphological evolution. We find that morphological variation is related to species richness within clades but that rates of morphological evolution are decoupled from the rate of lineage diversification. Additionally, morphological specialization within lineages is independent of the rate at which lineages diversify, with the results apparently robust against false negative inference. This dissociation is likely a consequence of the major ecomorphological differences between avian clades arising early in their evolutionary history, with comparatively little variation added subsequently, while avian diversification has been driven predominantly by geographic isolation and sexual selection. Accordingly, biodiversity appears to be limited by the extent to which taxa can subdivide exploited regions of ecological space and not just overall ecological opportunity
The American Naturalist
Crouch, Nicholas and Ricklefs, Robert, "Speciation Rate Is Independent of the Rate of Evolution of Morphological Size, Shape, and Absolute Morphological Specialization in a Large Clade of Birds" (2019). Biology Department Faculty Works. 148.
Available at: https://irl.umsl.edu/biology-faculty/148