Testing the hypothesis that a clade has adaptively radiated: Iguanid lizard clades as a case study

Jonathan B. Losos, Donald B. Miles

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109 Scopus citations


The study of adaptive radiations has played a fundamental role in understanding mechanisms of evolution. A recent resurgence in the study of adaptive radiations highlights a gap in our knowledge about determining whether a clade constitutes adaptive diversification. Specifically, no objective criteria exist to judge whether a clade constitutes an adaptive radiation. Most clades, given enough time, will diversify adaptively to some extent; therefore, we argue that the term "adaptive radiation" should be reserved for those clades that are exceptionally diverse in terms of the range of habitats occupied and attendant morphological adaptations. Making such a definition operational, however, requires a comparative analysis of many clades. Only by comparing clades can one distinguish those that are exceptionally diverse (or nondiverse) from those exhibiting a normal degree of adaptive disparity. We propose such a test, focusing on disparity in the ecological morphology of monophyletic groups within the lizard family Iguanidae. We find that two clades, the Polychrotinae and Phrynosomatinae, are exceptionally diverse and that two others, the Crotaphytinae and Oplurinae, are exceptionally nondiverse. Potential explanations for differences in diversity are discussed, as are caveats and future extensions of our approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-157
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Adaptive radiation
  • Disparity
  • Iguanid
  • Lizard


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