Sexual Dichromatism is Decoupled from Diversification Over Deep Time in Fishes

  • Elizabeth C. Miller (Contributor)
  • Sarah L. Mesnick (Contributor)
  • John J Wiens (Contributor)



Sexually selected traits have long been thought to drive diversification, but support for this hypothesis has been persistently controversial. In fishes, sexually dimorphic coloration is associated with assortative mating and speciation among closely related species, as shown in now-classic studies. However, it is unclear whether these results can generalize to explain diversity patterns across ray-finned fishes, which contain the majority of vertebrate species and 96% of fishes. Here, we use phylogenetic approaches to test for an association between sexual dichromatism and diversification rates (speciation minus extinction) in ray-finned fishes. We assembled dichromatism data for 10,898 species, a dataset of unprecedented size. We found no difference in diversification rates between monochromatic and dichromatic species when including all ray-finned fishes. However, at lower phylogenetic scales (within orders and families), some intermediate-sized clades did show an effect of dichromatism on diversification. Surprisingly, dichromatism could significantly increase or decrease diversification rates. Moreover, we found no effect in many of the clades initially used to link dichromatism to speciation in fishes (e.g. cichlids), or an effect only at shallow scales (within subclades). Overall, we show how the effects of dichromatism on diversification are highly variable in direction and restricted to certain clades and phylogenetic scales.
Date made availableApr 30 2021

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