Going to Extremes: Contrasting Rates of Diversification in a Recent Radiation of New World Passerine Birds

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Abstract

Recent analyses suggest that a few major shifts in diversification rate may be enough to explain most of the disparity in diversity among vertebrate lineages. At least one significant increase in diversification rate appears to have occurred within the birds; however, several nested lineages within birds have been identified as hyperdiverse by different studies. A clade containing the finches and relatives (within the avian order Passeriformes), including a large radiation endemic to the New World that comprises ~8% of all bird species, may be the true driver of this rate increase. Understanding the patterns and processes of diversification of this diverse lineage may go a long way toward explaining the apparently rapid diversification rates of both passerines and of birds as a whole. We present the first multilocus phylogenetic analyses of this endemic New World radiation of finch relatives that include sampling of all recognized genera, a relaxed molecular clock analysis of its divergence history, and an analysis of its broad-scale diversification patterns. These analyses recovered 5 major lineages traditionally recognized as avian families, but identified an additional 10 relatively ancient lineages worthy of recognition at the family level. Time-calibrated diversification analyses suggested that at least 3 of the 15 family-level lineages were significantly species poor given the entire group's background diversification rate, whereas at least one—the tanagers of family Thraupidae—appeared significantly more diverse. Lack of an age–diversity relationship within this clade suggests that, due to rapid initial speciation, it may have experienced density-dependent ecological limits on its overall diversity. [Concatenation; concordance; congruence; diversification; gene tree; New World; Passeriformes.]

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