Xiuqin Lin

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The studies of climatic-niche shifts over evolutionary time accompanied by key morphological innovations have attracted the interest of many researchers recently. We analyzed the realized niche dynamics across clades within Scutiger boulengeri using ecological niche models (ENMs), ordination method (environment principal component analysis; PCA-env), and correspondingly key morphological innovations combined phylogenetic comparative methods (PCMs) and phylogenetic generalized least squares (PGLS) regression methods throughout their distributions in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP) margins of China in Asia. Our analyses reveal that there is obvious niche divergence caused by niche expansion across S. boulengeri clades, especially in E. A, E. B and partial of E. C clades. Moreover, niche expansion is more popular than niche unfilling into novel environmental conditions. Annual mean temperature and Annual precipitation are the most important contributors in E. A and E. B clades, while Precipitation of driest month is most likely to be the leading limited factor in these two regions according to jackknife test of variable importance. In addition, we identified several key ecological and morphological traits that tend to be associated with niche expansion in S. boulengeri clades correspondingly. Specifically, we found that Elevation, Isothermality, Mean diurnal range and Max temperature of warmest month are significantly negative predictors of snout–vent length (SVL) under phylogenetic models, while the S. boulengeri toads from warmer and more arid environments tend to be larger. There seems to a trade-off strategy by trait covary of locomotor performance combined with enlarged SVL, which provide us a potential pattern of how a colonizing toad might seed a novel habit to begin the process of speciation and finally adaptive radiation. It is worth noting that we should not overlook that the Tibet continuously growing and moving northward over millions of years has laid the foundation for early divergence of clades within S. boulengeri.