Lineage Diversity and Size Disparity in Musteloidea: Testing Patterns of Adaptive Radiation Using Molecular and Fossil-Based Methods
Adaptive radiation is hypothesized to be a primary mechanism that drives the remarkable species diversity and morphological disparity across the Tree of Life. Tests for adaptive radiation in extant taxa are traditionally estimated from calibrated molecular phylogenies with little input from extinct taxa. With 85 putative species in 33 genera and over 400 described extinct species, the carnivoran superfamily Musteloidea is a prime candidate to investigate patterns of adaptive radiation using both extant- and fossil-based macroevolutionary methods. The species diversity and equally impressive ecological and phenotypic diversity found across Musteloidea is often attributed to two adaptive radiations coinciding with two major climate events, the Eocene-Oligocene transition and the Mid-Miocene Climate Transition. Here, we compiled a novel time-scaled phylogeny for 88% of extant musteloids and used it as a framework for testing the predictions of adaptive radiation hypotheses with respect to rates of lineage diversification and phenotypic evolution. Contrary to expectations, we found no evidence for rapid bursts of lineage diversification at the origin of Musteloidea, and further analyses of lineage diversification rates using molecular and fossil-based methods did not find associations between rates of lineage diversification and the Eocene-Oligocene transition or Mid-Miocene Climate Transition as previously hypothesized. Rather, we found support for decoupled diversification dynamics driven by increased clade carrying capacity in the branches leading to a subclade of elongate mustelids. Supporting decoupled diversification dynamics between the subclade of elongate mustelids and the ancestral musteloid regime is our finding of increased rates of body length evolution, but not body mass evolution, within the decoupled mustelid subclade. The lack of correspondence in rates of body mass and length evolution suggest that phenotypic evolutionary rates under a single morphological metric, even one as influential as mass, may not capture the evolution of diversity in clades that exhibit elongate body shapes. The discordance in evolutionary rates between body length and body mass along with evidence of decoupled diversification dynamics suggests that body elongation might be an innovation for the exploitation of novel Mid-Miocene resources, resulting in the radiation of some musteloids.