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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phenotypic covariance at species’ borders

M Julian Caley1*, Edward Cripps2 and Edward T Game3

Author Affiliations

1 Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB # 3, Townsville MC, Queensland QLD 4810, Australia

2 School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

3 The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Science, 245 Riverside Drive, West End, Queensland 4101, Australia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:105  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-105

Published: 28 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Understanding the evolution of species limits is important in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. Despite its likely importance in the evolution of these limits, little is known about phenotypic covariance in geographically marginal populations, and the degree to which it constrains, or facilitates, responses to selection. We investigated phenotypic covariance in morphological traits at species’ borders by comparing phenotypic covariance matrices (P), including the degree of shared structure, the distribution of strengths of pair-wise correlations between traits, the degree of morphological integration of traits, and the ranks of matricies, between central and marginal populations of three species-pairs of coral reef fishes.

Results

Greater structural differences in P were observed between populations close to range margins and conspecific populations toward range centres, than between pairs of conspecific populations that were both more centrally located within their ranges. Approximately 80% of all pair-wise trait correlations within populations were greater in the north, but these differences were unrelated to the position of the sampled population with respect to the geographic range of the species.

Conclusions

Neither the degree of morphological integration, nor ranks of P, indicated greater evolutionary constraint at range edges. Characteristics of P observed here provide no support for constraint contributing to the formation of these species’ borders, but may instead reflect structural change in P caused by selection or drift, and their potential to evolve in the future.