The role of the Ord Arid Intrusion in the historical and contemporary genetic division of long-tailed finch subspecies in northern Australia


  • Funded by a QEII Fellowship (DP0881019) to S. C. G. from the Australian Research Council, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship to Nina Svedin from the Research Council FORMAS.

Lee Ann Rollins, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109 Australia. Tel: +61 2 9850-1302; Fax: +61 2 9850-9231; E-mail:


The effect of separation by biogeographic features followed by secondary contact can blur taxonomic boundaries and produce complex genetic signatures. We analyzed population structure and gene flow across the range of the long-tailed finch (Poephila acuticauda) in northern Australia (1) to test the hypothesis that Ord Arid Intrusion acted as the causative barrier that led to divergence of P. acuticauda subspecies, (2) to determine whether genetic data support the presence of a gradual cline across the range or a sudden shift, both of which have been suggested based on morphological data, and (3) to estimate levels of contemporary gene flow within this species complex. We collected samples from 302 individuals from 10 localities. Analyses of 12 microsatellite loci and sequence data from 333 base pairs of the mitochondrial control region were used to estimate population structure and gene flow, using analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA), haplotype network analysis, frequency statistics, and clustering methods. Mitochondrial sequence data indicated the presence of three genetic groups (regions) across the range of P. acuticauda. Genetic diversity was highest in the east and lowest in the west. The Ord Arid Intrusion appears to have functioned as a biogeographic barrier in the past, according to mtDNA evidence presented here and evidence from previous studies. The absence of isolation by distance between adjacent regions and the lack of population genetic structure of mtDNA within regions indicates that genetic changes across the range of P. acuticauda subspecies are characterized by discrete breaks between regions. While microsatellite data indicate a complete absence of genetic structure across this species’ range, it appears unlikely that this results from high levels of gene flow. Mitochondrial data do not support the presence of contemporary gene flow across the range of this species.