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Plio-Pleistocene climatic oscilations, Holarctic biogeography and speciation in an avian subfamily


*Sergei V. Drovetski, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA. E-mail:


Aim In this paper, I discuss the temporal and spatial aspects of historical biogeography and speciation in a widely distributed Holarctic subfamily of birds (Tetraoninae).

Location Northern Holarctic.

Results Using dated fossils, I calibrated the molecular clock for the mitochondrial control region at 7.23 ± 1.58% nucleotide divergence (maximum likelihood corrected) per million years. The data suggest that grouse (Tetraoninae) originated in the Middle Pliocene, 6.3 Ma. Grouse apparently originated in the northern part of western Nearctic, and Palearctic was colonized independently three times, first by the ancestor of all grouse in the Middle Pliocene, then by the ancestor of forest (Falcipennis, Tetrao and Lyrurus) and prairie (Centrocercus, Dendragapus and Tympanuchus) grouse in the Late Pliocene, and finally by the ancestral Lagopus in the Early Pleistocene. Only once Nearctic was colonized from Palearctic by a common ancestor of forest grouse. Sympatry and range symmetry were positively correlated with molecular divergence. These correlations suggest that peripatric isolation was the predominant mode of speciation throughout grouse history.

Main conclusions Speciation events in grouse were driven by climatic oscillations of the Pliocene and Pleistocene. Isolation of small peripheral populations from widely distributed ancestors was the dominant mode of speciation in grouse. Isolations during interglacials both across Beringia, and in southern mountain areas when boreal habitats were restricted to high elevations, suggest an important role for vicariance in grouse speciation.