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Niche conservatism in Gynandropaa frogs on the southeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.
The role of ecological niche in lineage diversification has been the subject of long-standing interest of ecologists and evolutionary biologists. Gynandropaa frogs diversified into three independent clades endemic to the southeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Here, we address the question whether these clades kept the same niche after separation, and what it tells us about possible diversification processes. We applied predictions in geographical (G)-space and tests of niche conservatism in environmental (E)-space. Niche models in G-space indicate separate regions with high suitability for the different clades, with some potential areas of sympatry. While the pair of central and eastern clades displayed the largest niche overlap for most variables, and strict niche equivalency was rejected for all clade-pairs, we found no strong evidence for niche divergence, but rather the signature of niche conservatism compared to null models in E-space. These results suggest a common ancestral ecological niche, and as such give good support to divergence through allopatric speciation, but alternative explanations are also possible. Our findings illustrate how testing for niche conservatism in lineage diversification can provide insights into underlying speciation processes, and how this information may guide further research and conservation practices, as illustrated here for amphibians on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.
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