Ecological diversification associated with the benthic-to-pelagic transition by North American minnows

E. D. Burress, J. M. Holcomb, M. Tan, J. W. Armbruster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ecological opportunity is often regarded as a key factor that explains why diversity is unevenly distributed across life. Colonization of novel environments or adaptive zones may promote diversification. North American minnows exhibit an ancestral benthic-to-pelagic habitat shift that coincided with a burst in diversification. Here, we evaluate the phenotypic and ecological implications of this habitat shift by assessing craniofacial and dietary traits among 34 species and testing for morphology–diet covariation, convergence and adaptive optima. There were several instances of morphology–diet covariation such as correlations between mouth angle and the consumption of terrestrial insects and between relative gut length and the consumption of algae. After accounting for size and phylogenetic nonindependence, benthic species had longer heads, longer snouts, eyes positioned higher on their head, smaller mouth angles and longer digestive tracts than pelagic minnows. Benthic minnows also consumed more algae but less terrestrial insects, by volume, than pelagic minnows. Lastly, there were three distinct evolutionary regimes and more convergence in morphology and dietary characteristics than expected under a Brownian motion model of evolution. These findings indicate that colonization of the pelagic zone by minnows involved myriad phenotypic and dietary changes associated with exploitation of terrestrial subsidies. Thus, minnows exhibit phenotype–dietary covariation, an expansion of ecological roles and a burst in diversification rates in response to the ecological opportunity afforded by the colonization of a novel habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-560
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cyprinidae
  • adaptive radiation
  • craniofacial shape
  • diversification
  • morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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