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Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution



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The large number of endemic species in Middle America is frequently attributed to the interplay of geographical barriers and historical climatic changes in the region. This process promotes genetic divergence between populations, and given enough time, may yield new species. Animals that inhabit mid-elevation or highland habitats may be disproportionately affected in this way. Genetic analyses of animals in this region allow us to better understand how historical patterns of isolation have influenced the generation of new species in this biodiversity hotspot. We studied the biogeography and systematics of two closely related genera of sparrows (Passerellidae): Melozone and Aimophila. Collectively, this group is distributed from the southwestern United States and southward as far as central Costa Rica. We sampled 81 individuals of 8 Melozone and 2 Aimophila species, from 19 localities distributed throughout their ranges. We reconstructed phylogenetic relationships and time-calibrated species trees using multilocus sequence data comprised of one mitochondrial gene and five nuclear genes. We conducted an ancestral area reconstruction analysis to determine the probability of ancestral range at each divergent event. Despite analyzing six loci, we were unable to obtain a fully resolved phylogenetic tree. We recovered four main lineages: lineage 1 includes four Melozone species distributed north of Isthmus of Tehuantepec (M. albicollis, M. crissalis, M. aberti, M. fusca); lineage 2 includes three Melozone species distributed south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (M. biarcuata, M. cabanisi, M. leucotis); lineage 3 lineage consists of a single species endemic to the Pacific coast of Mexico (M. kieneri); and lineage 4 includes the more widely distributed sparrows in the genus Aimophila. Our analyses suggest that these genera probably originated during the late Miocene in the Madrean Highlands of southern Mexico. We identified dispersal as the prevalent cause of speciation in this clade with most lineages dispersing to their current distributions from southern Mexico either to the north following a developing and expanding Madro-Tertiary flora, or to the south across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. A similar pattern of dispersal from this biogeographic region has been reported in other taxa including fishes, reptiles, and birds. Our results reveal that the four lineages identified represent geographically coherent and ecologically similar assemblages of taxa. Finally, when our genetic results are considered, along with apparent differences in morphology and song, the allopatric forms M. b. cabanisi and M. l. occipitalis warrant recognition as biological species. © 2017

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