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Global biogeographic patterns of avian morphological diversity

Hughes, Emma C.; Edwards, David P.; Bright, Jen A.; Capp, Elliot J.R.; Cooney, Christopher R.; Varley, Zoë K.; Thomas, Gavin H.


Emma C. Hughes

David P. Edwards

Elliot J.R. Capp

Christopher R. Cooney

Zoë K. Varley

Gavin H. Thomas


Understanding the biogeographical patterns, and evolutionary and environmental drivers, underpinning morphological diversity are key for determining its origins and conservation. Using a comprehensive set of continuous morphological traits extracted from museum collections of 8353 bird species, including geometric morphometric beak shape data, we find that avian morphological diversity is unevenly distributed globally, even after controlling for species richness, with exceptionally dense packing of species in hyper-diverse tropical hotspots. At the regional level, these areas also have high morphological variance, with species exhibiting high phenotypic diversity. Evolutionary history likely plays a key role in shaping these patterns, with evolutionarily old species contributing to niche expansion, and young species contributing to niche packing. Taken together, these results imply that the tropics are both ‘cradles’ and ‘museums’ of phenotypic diversity.


Hughes, E. C., Edwards, D. P., Bright, J. A., Capp, E. J., Cooney, C. R., Varley, Z. K., & Thomas, G. H. (2022). Global biogeographic patterns of avian morphological diversity. Ecology letters, 25(3), 598-610.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 24, 2021
Online Publication Date Feb 24, 2022
Publication Date 2022-03
Deposit Date Apr 1, 2022
Publicly Available Date Apr 1, 2022
Journal Ecology Letters
Print ISSN 1461-023X
Electronic ISSN 1461-0248
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 3
Pages 598-610
Keywords Avian biodiversity; Community structure; Morphological diversity; Morphological traits; Morphospace; Niche expansion; Niche packing
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Copyright Statement
© 2022 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.<br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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