Van Bocxlaer, Bert and Hunt, Gene. 2013. "Morphological stasis in an ongoing gastropod radiation from Lake Malawi." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (34):13892-13897. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1308588110
Evolutionary processes leading to adaptive radiation regularly occur too fast to be accurately recorded in the fossil record but too slowly to be readily observed in living biota. The study of evolutionary radiations is thereby confronted with an epistemological gap between the timescales and approaches used by neontologists and paleontologists. Here we report on an ongoing radiation of extant Bellamya species (n = 4) from the African Rift Lake Malawi that provides an unusual opportunity to bridge this gap. The substantial molecular differentiation in this monophyletic Bellamya clade has arisen since Late Pleistocene megadroughts in the Malawi Basin caused by climate change. Morphological time-series analysis of a high-resolution, radiocarbon-dated sequence of 22 faunas spanning the Holocene documents stasis up to the middle Holocene in all traits studied (shell height, number of whorls, and two variables obtained from geometric morphometrics). Between deposition of the last fossil fauna (~5 ka) and the present day, a drastic increase in morphological disparity was observed (3.7–5.8 times) associated with an increase in species diversity. Comparison of the rates of morphological evolution obtained from the paleontological time-series with phylogenetic rates indicates that the divergence in two traits could be reconstructed with the slow rates documented in the fossils, that one trait required a rate reduction (stabilizing selection), and the other faster rates (divergent selection). The combined paleontological and comparative approach taken here allows recognition that morphological stasis can be the dominant evolutionary pattern within species lineages, even in very young and radiating clades.