Morphological diversity is routinely used to infer ecological variation among species because differences in form underlie variation in functional performance of ecological tasks like capturing prey, avoiding predators, or defending territories. However, many functions have complex morphological bases that can weaken associations between morphological and functional diversification. We investigate the link between these levels of diversity in a mechanically explicit model of fish suction-feeding performance, where the map of head morphology to feeding mechanics is many-to-one: multiple, alternative forms can produce the same mechanical property. We show that many-to-one mapping leads to discordance between morphological and mechanical diversity in the freshwater fish family, the Centrarchidae, despite close associations between morphological changes and their mechanical effects. We find that each of the model's five morphological variables underlies evolution of suction capacity. Yet, the major centrarchid clades exhibit an order of magnitude range in diversity of suction mechanics in the absence of any clear difference in diversity of the morphological variables. This cryptic pattern of mechanical diversity suggests an evolutionary history for suction performance that is unlike the one inferred from comparisons of morphological diversity. Because many-to-one mapping is likely to be common in functional systems, this property of design may lead to widespread discordance between functional and morphological diversity. Although we focus on the interaction between morphology and mechanics, many-to-one mapping can decouple diversity between levels of organization in any hierarchical system.
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Vol. 60 • No. 12