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Comparison of climate space and phylogeny of Marmota (Mammalia : Rodentia) indicates a connection between evolutionary history and climate preference


Palaeobiologists have investigated the evolutionary responses of extinct organisms to climate change, and have also used extinct organisms to reconstruct palaeoclimates. There is evidence of a disconnection between climate change and evolution that suggests that organisms may not be accurate palaeoclimate indicators. Here, marmots (Marmota sp.) are used as a case study to examine whether similarity of climate preferences is correlated with evolutionary relatedness of species. This study tests for a relationship between phylogenetic distance and 'climate distance' of species within a clade. There should be a significant congruence between maximum likelihood distance and standardized Euclidian distance between climates if daughter species tend to stay in environments similar to parent species. Marmots make a good test case because there are many extant species, their phylogenies are well established and individual survival is linked to climatic factors. A Mantel test indicates a significant correlation between climate and phylogenetic distance matrices, but this relationship explains only a small fraction of the variance (regression R2 = 0.114). These results suggest that (i) closely related species of marmots tend to stay in similar environments; (ii) marmots may be more susceptible than many mammals to global climate change; and (iii) because of the considerable noise in this system, the correlation cannot be used for detailed palaeoclimate reconstruction.

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