Pliocene climatic change in insular Southeast Asia as an engine of diversification in Ficedula flycatchers


*Diana Cumings Outlaw, Department of Biology, University of Missouri–St Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road, St Louis, MO 63121, USA.


Aims  Insular Southeast Asia and adjacent regions are geographically complex, and were dramatically affected by both Pliocene and Pleistocene changes in climate, sea level and geology. These circumstances allow the testing of several biogeographical hypotheses regarding species distribution patterns and phylogeny. Avian species in this area present a challenge to biogeographers, as many are less hindered by barriers that may block the movements of other species. Widely distributed Southeast Asian avian lineages, of which there are many, have been generally neglected. Ficedula flycatchers are distributed across Eurasia, but are most diverse within southern Asia and Southeast Asian and Indo-Australian islands. We tested the roles of vicariance, dispersal and the evolution of migratory behaviours as mechanisms of speciation within the Ficedula flycatchers, with a focus on species distributed in insular Southeast Asia.

Methods  Using a published molecular phylogeny of Ficedula flycatchers, we reconstructed ancestral geographical areas using dispersal vicariance analysis, weighted ancestral area analysis, and a maximum likelihood method. We evaluated the evolution of migratory behaviours using maximum likelihood ancestral character state reconstruction. Speciation timing estimates were calculated via local molecular clock methods.

Results Ficedula originated in southern mainland Asia, c. 6.5 Ma. Our analyses indicate that two lineages within Ficedula independently and contemporaneously colonized insular Southeast Asia and Indo-Australia, c. 5 Ma. The potential impact of vicariance due to rising sea levels is difficult to assess in these early colonization events because the ancestral areas to these clades are reconstructed as oceanic islands. Within each of these clades, inter-island dispersal was critical to species’ diversification across oceanic and continental islands. Furthermore, Pliocene and Pleistocene climatic change may have caused the disjunct island distributions between several pairs of sister taxa. Both vicariance and dispersal shaped the distributions of continental species.

Main conclusions  This study presents the first evaluation, for Ficedula, of the importance of vicariance and dispersal in shaping distributions, particularly across insular Southeast Asia and Indo-Australia. Although vicariant speciation may have initially separated the island clades from mainland ancestors, speciation within these clades was driven primarily by dispersal. Our results contribute to the emerging body of literature concluding that dynamic geological processes and climatic change throughout the Pliocene and Pleistocene have been important factors in faunal diversification across continental and oceanic islands.