Convergent Evolution of Behavior in an Adaptive Radiation of Hawaiian Web-Building Spiders

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Publication Date

Fall 2004


Species in ecologically similar habitats often display patterns of divergence that are strikingly comparable, suggesting that natural selection can lead to predictable evolutionary change in communities. However, the relative importance of selection as an agent mediating in situ diversification, versus dispersal between habitats, cannot be addressed without knowledge of phylogenetic history. We used an adaptive radiation of spiders within the Hawaiian Islands to test the prediction that species of spiders on different islands would independently evolve webs with similar architectures. Tetragnatha spiders are the only nocturnal orb-weaving spiders endemic to the Hawaiian archipelago, and multiple species of orb-weaving Tetragnatha co-occur within mesic and wet forest habitats on each of the main islands. Therefore, comparison of web architectures spun by spiders on different islands allowed study of replicated evolutionary events of past behavioral diversification. We found that species within each island construct webs with architectures that differ from one another. However, pairs of species on different islands, “ethotypes,” share remarkable similarities in web architectures. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that the species comprising these ethotypes evolved independent of one another. Our study illustrates the high degree of predictability that can be exhibited by the evolutionary diversification of complex behaviors. However, not all web architectures were shared between islands, demonstrating that unique effects also have played an important role in the historical diversification of behavior.

Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America





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