Resource polyphenism increases species richness: A test of the hypothesis

David W Pfennig, Matthew McGee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


A major goal of evolutionary biology is to identify the causes of diversification and to ascertain why some evolutionary lineages are especially diverse. Evolutionary biologists have long speculated that polyphenism-where a single genome produces alternative phenotypes in response to different environmental stimuli-facilitates speciation, especially when these alternative phenotypes differ in resource or habitat use, i.e. resource polyphenism. Here, we present a series of replicated sister-group comparisons showing that fishes and amphibian clades in which resource polyphenism has evolved are more species rich, and have broader geographical ranges, than closely related clades lacking resource polyphenism. Resource polyphenism may promote diversification by facilitating each of the different stages of the speciation process (isolation, divergence, reproductive isolation) and/or by reducing a lineage's risk of extinction. Generally, resource polyphenism may play a key role in fostering diversity, and species in which resource polyphenism has evolved may be predisposed to diversify.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-591
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1540
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptive radiation
  • Extinction
  • Key innovation
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Replicated sister-group comparison
  • Speciation

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