Fifty million years of beetle evolution along the Antarctic Polar Front

Helena P. Baird, Seunggwan Shin, Rolf G. Oberprieler, Maurice Hullé, Philippe Vernon, Katherine L. Moon, Richard H. Adams, Duane D. McKenna, Steven L. Chown

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Global cooling and glacial–interglacial cycles since Antarctica’s isolation have been responsible for the diversification of the region’s marine fauna. By contrast, these same Earth system processes are thought to have played little role terrestrially, other than driving widespread extinctions. Here, we show that on islands along the Antarctic Polar Front, paleoclimatic processes have been key to diversification of one of the world’s most geographically isolated and unique groups of herbivorous beetles—Ectemnorhinini weevils. Combining phylogenomic, phylogenetic, and phylogeographic approaches, we demonstrate that these weevils colonized the sub-Antarctic islands from Africa at least 50 Ma ago and repeatedly dispersed among them. As the climate cooled from the mid-Miocene, diversification of the beetles accelerated, resulting in two species-rich clades. One of these clades specialized to feed on cryptogams, typical of the polar habitats that came to prevail under Miocene conditions yet remarkable as a food source for any beetle. This clade’s most unusual representative is a marine weevil currently undergoing further speciation. The other clade retained the more common weevil habit of feeding on angiosperms, which likely survived glaciation in isolated refugia. Diversification of Ectemnorhinini weevils occurred in synchrony with many other Antarctic radiations, including penguins and notothenioid fishes, and coincided with major environmental changes. Our results thus indicate that geoclimatically driven diversification has progressed similarly for Antarctic marine and terrestrial organisms since the Miocene, potentially constituting a general biodiversity paradigm that should be sought broadly for the region’s taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2017384118
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021


  • Antarctica
  • Herbivory
  • Island biogeography
  • Paleoclimate
  • Species radiation

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