Timetree of Aselloidea Reveals Species Diversification Dynamics in Groundwater

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A key challenge for biologists is to document and explain global patterns of diversification in a wide range of environments. Here, we explore patterns of continental-scale diversification in a groundwater species-rich clade, the superfamily Aselloidea (Pancrustacea: Isopoda). Our analyses supported a constant diversification rate during most of the course of Aselloidea evolution, until 4–15 Ma when diversification rates started to decrease. This constant accumulation of lineages challenges the view that groundwater species diversification in temperate regions might have been primarily driven by major changes in physical environment leading to the extinction of surface populations and subsequent synchronous isolation of multiple groundwater populations. Rather than acting synchronously over broad geographic regions, factors causing extinction of surface populations and subsequent reproductive isolation of groundwater populations may act in a local and asynchronous manner, thereby resulting in a constant speciation rate over time. Our phylogeny also revealed several cases of parapatric distributions among closely related surface-water and groundwater species suggesting that species diversification could also arise from a process of disruptive selection along the surface-subterranean environmental gradient. Our results call for re-evaluating the spatial scale and timing of factors causing diversification events in groundwater. [Adaptive shift hypothesis; birth–death-shift model; climatic relict hypothesis; cryptic species; diversification rate; diversification slowdown; molecular timetree; subterranean ecosystems.]

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