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What is speciation?

Speciation is the process by which populations diverge and become independent evolutionary lineages. The mode and tempo of speciation is influenced by divergence owing to geographical isolation and natural selection, countered by the homogenizing effects of gene flow across landscapes. Species accumulation is influenced by speciation, extinction, and persistence of evolutionary lineages across space and through time.

Our research questions

CMEC aims to understand why some evolutionary lineages have contributed disproportionately to global diversity patterns, whereas other lineages are composed of relatively few surviving species. 

Our research methods

CMEC seeks to advance speciation research by producing, synthesizing and curating global scale spatial and trait datasets, generating comprehensive global phylogenies, generating null expectations from mechanistic models. A representative selection of our research projects within the speciation theme are described below.




Birds, class Aves, are a model group in ecology and evolution because their natural history is better documented and their distributions are charted more completely than any animal group. Birds provide a great test system for diverse questions about biodiversity. For example:

The Bird Genome 10,000 Project (B10K)

We work with a large international consortium to develop a comprehensive phylogeny for all bird species based on full genomes sequencing. The project will make the annotated genomes available as an open resource for research in phylogenetics, genomics and evolution of traits.

Read more about B10K


Professor Carsten Rahbek
Professor Emeritus Jon Fjeldså
Associate Professor Rute Fonseca
Assistant Professor Peter Hosner

Evolution of flightlessness in birds

Info coming

The largest avian radiation

The recently published book The Largest Avian Radiation provides a synthesis of the global phylogeny and biogeographic expansion of the largest avian group, the 6000 species of the order Passeriformes. It presents comprehensive results of molecular phylogenetic work and develops questions of greater generality concerning the relative roles of historical contingency, earth history and contemporary environmental conditions in producing this radiation.


Professor Emeritus Jon Fjeldså


Spider phylogeny

We are constructing a genus-level phylogeny to how and why behavioral specializations in the family Araneidae evolved and contributed to the dominance of araneid spiders as predators of flying insects.

Professor Nikolaj Scharff: nscharff@snm.ku.dk
Dimitar Dimitrov: dimitard.gwu@gmail.com

Angiosperm phylogeny

We explore patterns of plant diversity around the globe using a molecular phylogeny of 12,000 angiosperm genera and compilation of global distributional data. 

Read more about The tree of life.

Assistant Professor Zhiheng Wang: zwang@snm.ku.dk
Postdoctoral Researcher Dimitar Dimitrov: dimitard.gwu@gmail.com
Professor Carsten Rahbek: crahbek@sund.ku.dk

Biodiversity in the Eastern Arc

In this project, we focus on arthropods to investigate how climatic and habitat affect taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional disparity across space and time.

Professor Nikolaj Scharff: nscharff@snm.ku.dk
Professor Jon Fjeldså: jfjeldsaa@snm.ku.dk

Phytoplankton diversity

We explore the great diversity of phytoplankton and how species evolve in the Oceans.

Professor Katherine Richardson: kari@sund.ku.dk



Mountains are excellent test systems for exploring questions about speciation and accumulation of species diversity over time because mountain regions are complex, comprising harsh environments with few species as well as places with an extraordinary local concentration of plant and animal species, often with very localized distributions.

Speciation in montane regions

We use large phylogenies and distributional databases to study how diversification processes vary across the montane regions of the world and aim to answer general questions about the roles of mountains as 'sinks' or 'cradles' of species diversity.


Professor Carsten Rahbek
Professor (Emeritus) Jon Fjeldså
Associate Professor Rute da Fonseca
Assistant Professor Peter Hosner

Stability and change in mountains

In this project, we explore the relative roles of stability and change, of ‘cradles’ and ‘sinks’ of species diversity, the role of the world’s montane regions and other environments of high species diversity, and how the latitudinal gradient of biodiversity was generated.


Professor Carsten Rahbek
Professor David Nogués-Bravo
Associate Professor Michael Krabbe Borregaard 


Islands are simpler laboratories for understanding the processes driving global diversity; but they are also unique systems in themselves, with a characteristic geological life cycle. We investigate what limits species diversity of islands of different sizes, topographical and geological complexity and climate.


Associate Professor Michael Krabbe Borregaard
Professor Robert Whittaker
Associate Professor (Emeritus) Henning Adsersen



Highlighted Papers

Hansen, L., Fjeldså, J., et al. (2016) Social selection parapatry in Afrotropical sunbirdsEvolution Vol. 70: 1307-1321 Download

Jønsson, K. et al. (2016) A supermatrix phylogeny of corvoid passerine birds (Aves: Corvides), Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution Vol. 94, Part A: 87-94 Download

Jarvis et al. (2014) Whole-genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds Science Vol. 346, 6215: 1320-1331 Download