Delimiting taxon boundaries is crucial for any evolutionary research and conservation regulation. In order to avoid mistaken description of species, the approach of integrative taxonomy recommends considering multidisciplinary lines of evidence, including ecology. Unfortunately, ecological data are often difficult to quantify objectively. Here we test and discuss the potential use of ecological niche models for validating taxon boundaries, using three pairs of closely related plant taxa endemic to the south-western Alps as a case study. We also discuss the application of ecological niche models for species delimitation and the implementation of different approaches. • Niche overlap, niche equivalency and niche similarity were assessed both in multidimensional environmental space and in geographic space to look for differences in the niche of three pairs of closely related plant taxa. • We detected a high degree of niche differentiation between taxa although this result seems not due to differences in habitat selection. The different statistical tests gave contrasting outcomes between environmental and geographic spaces. • According to our results, niche divergence does not seem to support taxon boundaries at species level, but may have had important consequences for local adaptation and in generating phenotypic diversity at intraspecific level. Environmental space analysis should be preferred to geographic space as it provides more clear results. Even if the different analyses widely disagree in their conclusions about taxon boundaries, our study suggests that ecological niche models may help taxonomists to reach a decision.

Divergence is not enough: the use of ecological niche models for the validation of taxon boundaries

DAGNINO D.;MINUTO L.;CASAZZA G.
2017

Abstract

Delimiting taxon boundaries is crucial for any evolutionary research and conservation regulation. In order to avoid mistaken description of species, the approach of integrative taxonomy recommends considering multidisciplinary lines of evidence, including ecology. Unfortunately, ecological data are often difficult to quantify objectively. Here we test and discuss the potential use of ecological niche models for validating taxon boundaries, using three pairs of closely related plant taxa endemic to the south-western Alps as a case study. We also discuss the application of ecological niche models for species delimitation and the implementation of different approaches. • Niche overlap, niche equivalency and niche similarity were assessed both in multidimensional environmental space and in geographic space to look for differences in the niche of three pairs of closely related plant taxa. • We detected a high degree of niche differentiation between taxa although this result seems not due to differences in habitat selection. The different statistical tests gave contrasting outcomes between environmental and geographic spaces. • According to our results, niche divergence does not seem to support taxon boundaries at species level, but may have had important consequences for local adaptation and in generating phenotypic diversity at intraspecific level. Environmental space analysis should be preferred to geographic space as it provides more clear results. Even if the different analyses widely disagree in their conclusions about taxon boundaries, our study suggests that ecological niche models may help taxonomists to reach a decision.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11567/887252
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