New Cooper Lab publication in PeerJ!
Purple Martin in northern Utah

New publication!

New Cooper Lab publication in PeerJ!

Species diverge genetically, but how do their niches diverge relative to each other?

Dr. Jacob C. Cooper just had his first major publication as first author post-PhD come out today in the journal PeerJ! In it, the niches of the widespread Western Hemisphere genus Progne are explored. This genus consists of a myriad of cryptic species that are extremely difficult (if not impossible!) to identify in the field, and have distributions that range from extremely local (e.g., Galápagos Martin P. modesta endemic to a few islands) to wide ranging (e.g., Gray-breasted Martin P. chalybea, found from Mexico to Argentina).

This study finds that, among the wide-ranging and diverse Progne, most species’ ecological niches do not appear too different from the hypothesized ancestral niche. Curiously, the largest ecological niches and largest geographic ranges likewise correspond to the most basal species within the group. It therefore appears that the diversification of Progne mirrors the taxon cycles highlighted by Ricklefs & Cox (1972), wherein wide-ranging species become more restricted in their ranges (and their niches) to occupy and specialize in particular regions.

More research is required to see how widespread this pattern is, but we see many taxonomic groups worldwide that have a few wide-ranging species and multiple locally distributed taxa. We also see evidence of wide ranging groups of birds (like Zosterops white-eyes or the Island Thrush complex Turdus poliocephalus group) that appear to have spread quickly and are now diversifying and specializing in particular regions. More research is required to understand how these dynamics of expansive niches and ranges relate to locally distributed species, and how these cycles may manifest on large, continental scales as shown in Progne.

You can read the whole article on PeerJ, and feel free to reach out to Dr. Cooper for more information!


Cooper, Jacob C. 2024. Ecological niche divergence or ecological niche partitioning in a widespread Neotropical bird lineage. PeerJ 12:e17345 doi: 10.7717/peerj.17345

Ricklefs, R. E. & G. W. Cox. 1972. Taxon cycles in the West Indian avifauna. The American Naturalist 106:195-219. doi: 10.1086/282762

University of Nebraska at Kearney publication ecological niche modeling evolutionary biology