Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Resolving rapid radiations

What are the phylogenetic relationships among the members of speciation bursts?

Ben Wielstra

One area of focus in the Wielstra lab is inferring the phylogeny of ancient speciation bursts. Rapid radiations are often also adaptive, with the species involved possessing unique phenotypes reflecting ecological specialization. To understand this eco-morphological evolution a resolved phylogenetic tree is a requirement. Yet, deciphering the phylogenetic relationships among ancient species that diverged over a short time span is particularly challenging; little time was available for informative mutations to become fixed and a lot of noise has accumulated since. However, genome-scale datasets can provide the resolution required to crack these cases. Wielstra is working on several newt radiations.


  • Wielstra, B., McCartney-Melstad, E., Arntzen, J.W., Butlin, R.K., Shaffer, H.B. (2019). Phylogenomics of the adaptive radiation of Triturus newts supports gradual ecological niche expansion towards an incrementally aquatic lifestyle. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 133: 120-127.
  • van Riemsdijk, I., Arntzen, J.W., Bogaerts, S., Franzen, M., Litvinchuk, S.N., Olgun, K., Wielstra, B. (2017). The Near East as a cradle of biodiversity: a phylogeography of banded newts (genus Ommatotriton) reveals extensive inter- and intraspecific genetic differentiation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 114: 73-81.
  • Wielstra, B., Arntzen, J.W. (2011). Unraveling the rapid radiation of crested newts (Triturus cristatus superspecies) using complete mitogenomic sequences. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 162.
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