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Why is Madagascar special? The extraordinarily slow evolution of pelican spiders (Araneae, Archaeidae)

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Although Madagascar is an ancient fragment of Gondwana, the majority of taxa studied thus far appear to have reached the island through dispersal from Cenozoic times. Ancient lineages may have experienced a different history compared to more recent Cenozoic arrivals, as such lineages would have encountered geoclimatic shifts over an extended time period. The motivation for this study was to unravel the signature of diversification in an ancient lineage by comparing an area known for major geoclimatic upheavals (Madagascar) versus other areas where the environment has been relatively stable. Archaeid spiders are an ancient paleoendemic group with unusual predatory behaviors and spectacular trophic morphology that likely have been on Madagascar since its isolation. We examined disparities between Madagascan archaeids and their non-Madagascan relatives regarding timing of divergence, rates of trait evolution, and distribution patterns. Results reveal an increased rate of adaptive trait diversification in Madagascan archaeids. Furthermore, geoclimatic events in Madagascar over long periods of time may have facilitated high species richness due to montane refugia and stability, rainforest refugia, and also ecogeographic shifts, allowing for the accumulation of adaptive traits. This research suggests that time alone, coupled with more ancient geoclimatic events allowed for the different patterns in Madagascar.

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