Environmental niche models, which are generated by combining species occurrence data with environmental GIS data layers, are increasingly used to answer fundamental questions about niche evolution, speciation, and the accumulation of ecological diversity within clades. The question of whether environmental niches are conserved over evolutionary time scales has attracted considerable attention, but often produced conflicting conclusions. This conflict, however, may result from differences in how niche similarity is measured and the specific null hypothesis being tested. We develop new methods for quantifying niche overlap that rely on a traditional ecological measure and a metric from mathematical statistics. We reexamine a classic study of niche conservatism between sister species in several groups of Mexican animals, and, for the first time, address alternative definitions of “niche conservatism” within a single framework using consistent methods. As expected, we find that environmental niches of sister species are more similar than expected under three distinct null hypotheses, but that they are rarely identical. We demonstrate how our measures can be used in phylogenetic comparative analyses by reexamining niche divergence in an adaptive radiation of Cuban anoles. Our results show that environmental niche overlap is closely tied to geographic overlap, but not to phylogenetic distances, suggesting that niche conservatism has not constrained local communities in this group to consist of closely related species. We suggest various randomization tests that may prove useful in other areas of ecology and evolutionary biology.
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Vol. 62 • No. 11