Adding more Ecology and Genomics in understanding of the biological Diversity: the role of islands as natural laboratories

A major challenge facing evolutionary biologists is to explain the diversity of life and the interplay of evolutionary and ecological forces that shape it. Islands provide the best natural laboratories to study the species level processes that initiate biological diversification. We propose to use a next-generation sequencing method (RAD-tags) in a multi-species dataset to tease the role of genetic, geological, and environmental factors in shaping the bio-diversity. We will study the evolutionary radiation of 4 herptiles that possess contrasting ecological requirements and life history traits in the Aegean, where the landscape provides both young and old, simplified and complex geological and ecological settings. We aim to develop ecological niche models using georeferenced locality data and environmental data layers; assess whether genetic variation across lineages is associated with divergence in the ecological niche; demonstrate a general approach for combining ecological niche modeling and phylogenetics in species delimitation; and examine the phylogeographic pattern of each taxon by representing them as population trees with different topologies, identifying a series of plausible colonization scenarios, testing these scenarios within an ABC framework. We also aim to show that RAD-tags is a powerful tool to identify detailed patterns of phylogenetic relationships in any organism regardless of existing genomic data, recognize incipient speciation and genome-wide variation in natural populations, and creating a pipeline that could be adopted for other non model species, enhancing our knowledge for the processes that led to the diversity of life. As the loss of biological diversity continues at an astounding rate, increasing depth of understanding and application of new technologies will be instrumental in reevaluation of diversity, refining conservation strategies to protect what remains and preserve the highest possible level of diversity in natural ecosystems.


Keywords: Aegean Niche modeling Herptiles RAD-tag Phylogenetics Phylogeography Species delimitation

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