Species that are geographically widespread may exist across environmentally heterogeneous landscapes that could influence patterns of occupation and phylogeographic structure. Previous studies have suggested that geographic range size should be positively correlated with niche breadth, allowing widespread species to sustain viable populations over diverse environmental gradients. We examined the congruence of phenotypic and phylogenetic divergence with the environmental factors that help maintain species level diversity in the geographically widespread hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus sensu lato) across their distribution. Genetic sequences were analyzed using multiple phylogenetic and species delimitation methods, and phenotypic data were analyzed using supervised and unsupervised machine learning approaches. Spatial data from environmental, geographic, and topographic features were analyzed in a multiple regression analysis to determine their relative effect on phenotypic diversity. Ecological niches of each hoary bat species were examined in environmental space to quantify niche overlap, equivalency, and the magnitude of niche differentiation. Phylogenetic and species delimitation analyses support existence of three geographically structured species of hoary bat, each of which is phenotypically distinct. However, the Hawaiian hoary bat is morphologically more similar to the South American species than to the North American species despite a closer phylogenetic relationship to the latter. Multiple regression and niche analyses revealed higher environmental similarities between the South American and Hawaiian species. Hoary bats thus exhibit a pattern of phenotypic variation that disagrees with well-supported genetic divergences, instead indicating phenotypic convergence driven by similar environmental features and relatively conserved niches occupied in tropical latitudes.
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