Natural fragmentation in river networks as a driver of speciation for freshwater fishes

TitleNatural fragmentation in river networks as a driver of speciation for freshwater fishes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsDias, MS, Cornu, J-F, Oberdorff, T, Lasso, CA, Tedesco, P

Although habitat fragmentation fosters extinctions, it also increases the probability of speciation by promoting and maintaining divergence among isolated populations. Here we test for the effects of two isolation factors that may reduce population dispersal within river networks as potential drivers of freshwater fish speciation: 1) the position of subdrainages along the longitudinal river gradient, and 2) the level of fragmentation within subdrainages caused by natural waterfalls. The occurrence of native freshwater fish species from 26 subdrainages of the Orinoco drainage basin (South America) was used to identify those species that presumably arose from in-situ cladogenetic speciation (i.e. neo-endemic species; two or more endemic species from the same genus) within each subdrainage. We related subdrainages fish diversity (i.e. total, endemic and neo-endemic species richness) and an index of speciation to our two isolation factors while controlling for subdrainages size and energy availability. The longitudinal position of subdrainages was unrelated to any of our diversity measures, a result potentially explained by the spatial grain we used and/or the contemporary connection between Orinoco and Amazon basins via the upstream Casiquiare region. However, we found higher neo-endemic species richness and higher speciation index values in highly fragmented subdrainages. These results suggest that habitat fragmentation generated by natural waterfalls drives cladogenetic speciation in fragmented subdrainages. More generally, our results emphasize the role of history and natural waterfalls as biogeographic barriers promoting freshwater biodiversity in river drainage basins.