Is salamander arboreality limited by broad-scale climatic conditions?

Baken, Erica K.
Mellenthin, Lauren E.
Adams, Dean
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© 2021 Baken et al.
Adams, Dean
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology
Identifying the historical processes that drive microhabitat transitions across deep time is of great interest to evolutionary biologists. Morphological variation can often reveal such mechanisms, but in clades with high microhabitat diversity and no concomitant morphological specialization, the factors influencing animal transitions across microhabitats are more difficult to identify. Lungless salamanders (family: Plethodontidae) have transitioned into and out of the arboreal microhabitat many times throughout their evolutionary history without substantial morphological specialization. In this study, we explore the relationship between microhabitat use and broad-scale climatic patterns across species’ ranges to test the role of climate in determining the availability of the arboreal microhabitat. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we reveal that arboreal species live in warmer, lower elevation regions than terrestrial species. We also employ ecological niche modeling as a complementary approach, quantifying species-level pairwise comparisons of niche overlap. The results of this approach demonstrate that arboreal species on average display more niche overlap with other arboreal species than with terrestrial species after accounting for non-independence of niche model pairs caused by geographic and phylogenetic distances. Our results suggest that occupation of the arboreal microhabitat by salamanders may only be possible in sufficiently warm, low elevation conditions. More broadly, this study indicates that the impact of micro-environmental conditions on temporary microhabitat use, as demonstrated by small-scale ecological studies, may scale up dramatically to shape macroevolutionary patterns.
This article is published as Baken EK, Mellenthin LE, Adams DC (2021) Is salamander arboreality limited by broadscale climatic conditions? PLoS ONE 16(8):e0255393. Posted with permission. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.