microevolution, speciation, macroevolution, life history, Poeciliidae, predation environment


A central problem in evolutionary biology is to determine whether adaptive phenotypic variation within species (microevolution) ultimately gives rise to new species (macroevolution). Predation environment can select for trait divergence among populations within species. The implied hypothesis is that the selection resulting from predation environment that creates population divergence within species would continue across the speciation boundary such that patterns of divergence after speciation would be a magnified accumulation of the trait variation observed before speciation. In this paper, we test for congruence in the mechanisms of microevolution and macroevolution by comparing the patterns of life history divergence among three closely related species of the livebearer genus Brachyrhaphis (Poeciliidae), namely B. rhabdophora, B. roseni, and B. terrabensis. Within B. rhabdophora, populations occur in either predator or predator-free environments, and have been considered to be at a nascent stage of speciation. Sister species B. roseni and B. terrabensis are segregated into predator and predator-free environments, respectively, and represent a post-speciation comparison. Male and female size at maturity, clutch size, and offspring size (and to a lesser extent reproductive allocation) all diverged according to predation environment and differences were amplified through evolutionary time, i.e., across the speciation boundary. Variation observed among nascent species differentiated by predation environment is a good predictor of variation among established species differentiated by predation environment. We found no evidence for different processes or different levels of selection acting across the speciation boundary, suggesting that macroevolution in these species can be understood as an accumulation of micro-evolutionary changes.

Original Publication Citation

Belk, Mark C.; Ingley, Spencer J.; Johnson, Jerald B. 2020. "Life History Divergence in Livebearing Fishes in Response to Predation: Is There a Microevolution to Macroevolution Barrier?" Diversity 12, no. 5: 179.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date







Life Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

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Biology Commons