Geographic range size and evolutionary age in birds

Thomas J. Webb, Kevin J. Gaston

Abstract

Together with patterns of speciation and extinction, post–speciation transformations in the range sizes of individual species determine the form of contemporary species–range–size distributions. However, the methodological problems associated with tracking the dynamics of a species' range size over evolutionary time have precluded direct study of such range–size transformations, although indirect evidence has led to several models being proposed describing the form that they might take. Here, we use independently derived molecular data to estimate ages of species in six monophyletic groups of birds, and examine the relationship between species age and global geographic range size. We present strong evidence that avian range sizes are not static over evolutionary time. In addition, it seems that, with the regular exception of certain taxa (for example island endemics and some threatened species), range–size transformations are non–random in birds. In general, range sizes appear to expand relatively rapidly post speciation; subsequently, and perhaps more gradually, they then decline as species age. We discuss these results with reference to the various models of range-size dynamics that have been proposed.

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