Tracking island colonization history and phenotypic shifts in Indian Ocean bulbuls (Hypsipetes : Pycnonotidae)

Ben H. Warren, Eldredge Bermingham, Robert P. Prys-Jones, Christophe Thebaud

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Molecular phylogenies of island organisms provide useful systems for testing hypotheses of convergent or parallel evolution, since selectively neutral molecular characters are likely to be independent of phenotype, and the existence of similar environments on multiple isolated islands provides numerous opportunities for populations to evolve independently under the same constraints. Here we construct a phylogenetic hypothesis for Hypsipetes bulbuls of the western Indian Ocean, and use this to test hypotheses of colonization pattern and phenotypic change among islands of the region. Mitochondrial sequence data were collected from all extant taxa of the region, combined with sequence data from relevant lineages in Asia. Data are consistent with a single Hypsipetes colonization of the western Indian Ocean from Asia within the last 2.6 myr. The expansion of Hypsipetes appears to have occurred rapidly, with descendants found across the breadth of its western Indian Ocean range. The data suggest that a more recent expansion of Hypsipetes madagascariensis from Madagascar led to the colonization of Aldabra and a secondary colonization of the Comoros. Groupings of western Indian Ocean Hypsipetes according to phenotypic similarities do not correspond to mtDNA lineages, suggesting that these similarities have evolved by convergence or parallelism. The direction of phenotypic change cannot be inferred with confidence, since the primary expansion occurred rapidly relative to the rate of mtDNA substitution, and the colonization sequence remains uncertain. However, evidence from biogeography and comparison of independent colonization events are consistent with the persistence of a small grey continental bulbul in India and Madagascar, and multiple independent origins of large size and green plumage in insular island populations of the Comoros, Mascarenes and Seychelles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-287
Number of pages17
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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