When Are Phylogenetic Analyses Misled by Convergence? A Case Study in Texas Cave Salamanders


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January 2003


Convergence, i.e., similarity between organisms that is not the direct result of shared phylogenetic history (and that may instead result from independent adaptations to similar environments), is a fundamental issue that lies at the interface of systematics and evolutionary biology. Although convergence is often cited as an important problem in morphological phylogenetics, there have been few well-documented examples of strongly supported and misleading phylogenetic estimates that result from adaptive convergence in morphology. In this article, we propose criteria that can be used to infer whether or not a phylogenetic analysis has been misled by convergence. We then apply these criteria in a study of central Texas cave salamanders (genus Eurycea). Morphological characters (apparently related to cave-dwelling habitat use) support a clade uniting the species E. rathbuni and E. tridentifera, whereas mitochondrial DNA sequences and allozyme data show that these two species are not closely related. We suggest that a likely explanation for the paucity of examples of strongly misleading morphological convergence is that the conditions under which adaptive convergence is most likely to produce strongly misleading results are limited. Specifically, convergence is most likely to be problematic in groups (such as the central Texas Eurycea) in which most species are morphologically very similar and some of the species have invaded and adapted to a novel selective environment.


Adaptation, Convergence, Eurycea, Homoplasy, Molecular Systematics, Morphology, Phlogeny, Salamanders

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Systematic Biology, Vol. 52, no. 4 (2003).