Testing Convergence Versus History: Convergence Dominates Phenotypic Evolution for over 150 Million Years in Frogs

Daniel S. Moen, Hélène Morlon, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Striking evolutionary convergence can lead to similar sets of species in different locations, such as in cichlid fishes and Anolis lizards, and suggests that evolution can be repeatable and predictable across clades. Yet, most examples of convergence involve relatively small temporal and/or spatial scales. Some authors have speculated that at larger scales (e.g., across continents), differing evolutionary histories will prevent convergence. However, few studies have compared the contrasting roles of convergence and history, and none have done so at large scales. Here we develop a two-part approach to test the scale over which convergence can occur, comparing the relative importance of convergence and history in macroevolution using phylogenetic models of adaptive evolution. We apply this approach to data from morphology, ecology, and phylogeny from 167 species of anuran amphibians (frogs) from 10 local sites across the world, spanning ∼160 myr of evolution. Mapping ecology on the phylogeny revealed that similar microhabitat specialists (e.g., aquatic, arboreal) have evolved repeatedly across clades and regions, producing many evolutionary replicates for testing for morphological convergence. By comparing morphological optima for clades and microhabitat types (our first test), we find that convergence associated with microhabitat use dominates frog morphological evolution, producing recurrent ecomorphs that together encompass all sampled species in each community in each region. However, our second test, which examines whether and how much species differ from their inferred optima, shows that convergence is incomplete: that is, phenotypes of most species are still somewhat distant from the estimated optimum for each microhabitat, seemingly because of insufficient time for more complete adaptation (an effect of history). Yet, these effects of history are related to past ecologies, and not clade membership. Overall, our study elucidates the dominant drivers of morphological evolution across a major vertebrate clade and shows that evolution can be repeatable at much greater temporal and spatial scales than commonly thought. It also provides an analytical framework for testing other potential examples of large-scale convergence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-160
Number of pages15
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Amphibians
  • Anura
  • communities
  • constraint
  • convergence
  • ecomorphology
  • macroevolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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