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Habitat Opening Fostered Diversity: Impact of Dispersal and Habitat-shifts in the Diversification of a Speciose Afrotropical Insect Group
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  • Noémie Hévin,
  • Paul Goldstein,
  • Kwaku Aduse-Poku,
  • Jérôme Barbut,
  • Andrew Mitchell,
  • Alberto Zilli,
  • Anne-Laure Clamens,
  • Claire Capdevielle-Dulac,
  • Niklas Wahlberg,
  • Bruno Le Ru,
  • Gael Kergoat
Noémie Hévin

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Paul Goldstein
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Kwaku Aduse-Poku
Georgia State University
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Jérôme Barbut
Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle
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Andrew Mitchell
Australian Museum Research Institute
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Alberto Zilli
Natural History Museum Library and Archives
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Anne-Laure Clamens
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Claire Capdevielle-Dulac
Évolution Génomes Comportement et Écologie
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Niklas Wahlberg
Lunds Universitet Naturvetenskapliga fakulteten
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Bruno Le Ru
Évolution Génomes Comportement et Écologie
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Gael Kergoat
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The opening of habitats associated with the emergence of C4 grasslands during the Neogene has had a massive influence on the evolution of plant and animal communities. Strikingly, the impacts of grassland expansion on species diversification in Africa, where the largest surface of grasslands and savannas in the world is located, are not well understood. To explore the impact of habitat opening, we investigate the evolution of noctuid stemborers, a group of moths mostly associated with open habitats, and whose diversity is centered in the Afrotropics. We generate a dated molecular phylogeny for ca. 80% of the known stemborer species and assess the role of habitat opening on the evolutionary trajectory of the group through a combination of parametric historical biogeography, ancestral character state estimation, life history traits and habitat-dependent diversification analyses. Our results support an origin of stemborers in Southern and East Africa ca. 20 million years ago (Ma), with range expansions linked to the increased availability of open habitats to act as dispersal corridors, and closed habitats acting as potent barriers to dispersal. Early specialization on open habitats was maintained over time, with shifts towards closed habitats being rare and invariably unidirectional. Analyses of life history traits showed that habitat changes involved specific features likely associated with grassland adaptations, such as variations in larval behavior and color. We compare these findings to those previously inferred for an Afrotropical butterfly group that diversified roughly in parallel with the stemborers but distributed predominantly in closed habitats. Remarkably, these two groups show nearly opposite responses in relation to habitat specialization, whether in terms of biogeographical patterns, or in terms of rates of transition between open and closed habitats. We conclude that habitat opening played a major role in the diversification of Afrotropical lineages through dispersal and adaptation linked to habitat shifts.