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Island biogeography of marine organisms

30 / 08 / 2017, Nature - Current issues

Studies on the distribution and evolution of organisms on oceanic islands have advanced towards a dynamic perspective, where terrestrial endemicity results from island geographical aspects and geological history intertwined with sea-level fluctuations. Diversification on these islands may follow neutral models, decreasing over time as niches are filled, or disequilibrium states and progression rules, where richness and endemism rise with the age of the archipelago owing to the splitting of ancestral lineages (cladogenesis). However, marine organisms have received comparatively little scientific attention. Therefore, island and seamount evolutionary processes in the aquatic environment remain unclear. Here we analyse the evolutionary history of reef fishes that are endemic to a volcanic ridge of seamounts and islands to understand their relations to island evolution and sea-level fluctuations. We also test how this evolutionary history fits island biogeography theory. We found that most endemic species have evolved recently (Pleistocene epoch), during a period of recurrent sea-level changes and intermittent connectivity caused by repeated aerial exposure of seamounts, a finding that is consistent with an ephemeral ecological speciation process. Similar to findings for terrestrial biodiversity, our data suggest that the marine speciation rate on islands is negatively correlated with immigration rate. However, because marine species disperse better than terrestrial species, most niches are filled by immigration: speciation increases with the random accumulation of species with low dispersal ability, with few opportunities for in situ cladogenesis and adaptive radiation. Moreover, we confirm that sea-level fluctuations and seamount location play a critical role in marine evolution, mainly by intermittently providing stepping stones for island colonization.

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