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Molecular phylogeography reveals island colonization history and diversification of western Indian Ocean sunbirds (Nectarinia: Nectariniidae)

Warren B.H. ; Bermingham E. ; Bowie R.C.K. ; Prys-Jones R.P. ; Thebaud C. (2003)


We constructed a phylogenetic hypothesis for western Indian Ocean sunbirds (Nectarinia) and used this to investigate the geographic pattern of their diversification among the islands of the Indian Ocean. A total of 1309 bp of mitochondrial sequence data was collected from the island sunbird taxa of the western Indian Ocean region, combined with sequence data from a selection of continental (African and Asian) sunbirds. Topological and branch length information combined with estimated divergence times are used to present hypotheses for the direction and sequence of colonization events in relation to the geological history of the Indian Ocean region. Indian Ocean sunbirds fall into two well-supported clades, consistent with two independent colonizations from Africa within the last 3.9 million years. The first clade contains island populations representing the species Nectarinia notata, while the second includes Nectarinia souimanga, Nectarinia humbloti, Nectarinia dussumieri, and Nectarinia coquereli. With respect to the latter clade, application of Bremer's [Syst. Biol. 41 (1992) 436] ancestral areas method permits us to posit the Comoros archipelago as the point of initial colonization in the Indian Ocean. The subsequent expansion of the souimanga clade across its Indian Ocean range occurred rapidly, with descendants of this early expansion remaining on the Comoros and granitic Seychelles. The data suggest that a more recent expansion from Anjouan in the Comoros group led to the colonization of Madagascar by sunbirds representing the souimanga clade. In concordance with the very young geological age of the Aldabra group, the sunbirds of this archipelago have diverged little from the Madagascar population; this is attributed to colonization of the Aldabra archipelago in recent times, in one or possibly two or more waves originating from Madagascar. The overall pattern of sunbird radiation across Indian Ocean islands indicates that these birds disperse across ocean barriers with relative ease, but that their subsequent evolutionary success probably depends on a variety of factors including prior island occupation by competing species. © 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

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