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Data from: Niche divergence promotes rapid diversification of East African sky island white-eyes (Aves: Zosteropidae)


Cox, Siobhan C. et al. (2014), Data from: Niche divergence promotes rapid diversification of East African sky island white-eyes (Aves: Zosteropidae), Dryad, Dataset,


The Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot composed of highly fragmented forested highlands (sky islands) harbours exceptional diversity and endemicity, particularly within birds. To explain their elevated diversity within this region, models founded on niche conservatism have been offered, although detailed phylogeographic studies are limited to a few avian lineages. Here we focus on the recent songbird genus Zosterops, represented by montane and lowland members, to test the roles of niche conservatism versus niche divergence in the diversification and colonization of East Africa’s sky islands. The species-rich white-eyes are a typically homogeneous family with an exceptional colonizing ability, but in contrast to their diversity on oceanic islands, continental diversity is considered depauperate and has been largely neglected. Molecular phylogenetic analysis reveals extensive polyphyly among different montane populations of Z. poliogastrus with these larger and heavier endemic populations more closely related to taxa with divergent habitat types, altitudinal distributions and dispersal abilities than they are to populations of restricted endemics that occur in neighbouring montane forest fragments. This repeated transition between lowland and highland habitats over time demonstrate that diversification of the focal group is explained by niche divergence. The results also highlight an underestimation of diversity compared to morphological studies that has implications for their taxonomy and conservation. Molecular dating suggests that the spatially extensive African radiation arose exceptionally rapidly (1-2.5 Ma) during the fluctuating Plio-Pleistocene climate, which may have provided the primary driver for lineage diversification.

Usage Notes


East Africa