Ecological speciation in the tropics: Insights from comparative genetic studies in Amazonia

Luciano B. Beheregaray, Georgina M. Cooke, Ning L. Chao, Erin L. Landguth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Evolution creates and sustains biodiversity via adaptive changes in ecologically relevant traits. Ecologically mediated selection contributes to genetic divergence both in the presence or absence of geographic isolation between populations, and is considered an important driver of speciation. Indeed, the genetics of ecological speciation is becoming increasingly studied across a variety of taxa and environments. In this paper we review the literature of ecological speciation in the tropics. We report on low research productivity in tropical ecosystems and discuss reasons accounting for the rarity of studies. We argue for research programs that simultaneously address biogeographical and taxonomic questions in the tropics, while effectively assessing relationships between reproductive isolation and ecological divergence. To contribute toward this goal, we propose a new framework for ecological speciation that integrates information from phylogenetics, phylogeography, population genomics, and simulations in evolutionary landscape genetics (ELG). We introduce components of the framework, describe ELG simulations (a largely unexplored approach in ecological speciation), and discuss design and experimental feasibility within the context of tropical research. We then use published genetic datasets from populations of five codistributed Amazonian fish species to assess the performance of the framework in studies of tropical speciation. We suggest that these approaches can assist in distinguishing the relative contribution of natural selection from biogeographic history in the origin of biodiversity, even in complex ecosystems such as Amazonia. We also discuss on how to assess ecological speciation using ELG simulations that include selection. These integrative frameworks have considerable potential to enhance conservation management in biodiversity rich ecosystems and to complement historical biogeographic and evolutionary studies of tropical biotas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number477
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2015


  • Adaptive divergence
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Biogeography
  • Ecological genomics
  • Evolutionary landscape genetics
  • Phylogenetics
  • Phylogeography
  • Tropical diversification


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