Short-range phenotypic divergence among genetically distinct parapatric populations of an Australian funnel-web spider

Mark K.L. Wong*, James D. Woodman, David M. Rowell

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Speciation involves divergence at genetic and phenotypic levels. Where substantial genetic differentiation exists among populations, examining variation in multiple phenotypic characters may elucidate the mechanisms by which divergence and speciation unfold. Previous work on the Australian funnel-web spider Atrax sutherlandi Gray (2010; Records of the Australian Museum 62, 285–392; Mygalomorphae: Hexathelidae: Atracinae) has revealed a marked genetic structure along a 110-kilometer transect, with six genetically distinct, parapatric populations attributable to past glacial cycles. In the present study, we explore variation in three classes of phenotypic characters (metabolic rate, water loss, and morphological traits) within the context of this phylogeographic structuring. Variation in metabolic and water loss rates shows no detectable association with genetic structure; the little variation observed in these rates may be due to the spiders’ behavioral adaptations (i.e., burrowing), which buffer the effects of climatic gradients across the landscape. However, of 17 morphological traits measured, 10 show significant variation among genetic populations, in a disjunct manner that is clearly not latitudinal. Moreover, patterns of variation observed for morphological traits serving different organismic functions (e.g., prey capture, burrowing, and locomotion) are dissimilar. In contrast, a previous study of an ecologically similar sympatric spider with little genetic structure indicated a strong latitudinal response in 10 traits over the same range. The congruence of morphological variation with deep phylogeographic structure in Tallaganda's A. sutherlandi populations, as well as the inconsistent patterns of variation across separate functional traits, suggest that the spiders are likely in early stages of speciation, with parapatric populations independently responding to local selective forces.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5094-5102
    Number of pages9
    JournalEcology and Evolution
    Issue number14
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


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