Aim Magpie-robins and shamas are forest and woodland birds of south Asia. There are two genera: Trichixos for the monotypic T. pyrrhopygus, and Copsychus for other species. Two species are widespread, whereas the others are restricted to specific islands. Endemicity is highest in the Philippines. Using phylogenetic methods, we examined how this group came to its unusual distribution.
Location Mainland Asia from India to southern China, and islands from Madagascar to the Philippines. Particular emphasis is placed on the Greater Sundas and Philippines.
Methods The phylogeny was estimated from DNA sequences of 14 ingroup taxa representing all nine currently recognized Copsychus and Trichixos species. The entire mitochondrial ND2 gene and portions of nuclear myoglobin intron 2 (Myo2) and transforming growth factor beta 2 intron 5 (TGFβ2-5) were sequenced for all but two species. The phylogeny was reconstructed using maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. The timing of divergence events was estimated using a relaxed molecular clock approach, and ancestral areas were examined using stochastic modelling.
Results The group comprises three main clades corresponding to ecological types: Trichixos, a primary-forest specialist; Copsychus magpie-robins, open-woodland and coastal species; and Copsychus shamas, thick-forest species. Trichixos appears to be sister to the magpie-robins, rendering Copsychus polyphyletic. The dating of phylogenetic nodes was too ambiguous to provide substantial insight into specific geographical events responsible for divergence within the group. Some patterns are nevertheless clear. Copsychus shamas reached the Philippines, probably in two separate invasions, and split into endemic species. Copsychus malabaricus and C. saularis expanded widely in the Greater Sundas and mainland Southeast Asia without species-level diversification.
Main conclusions Magpie-robins are excellent dispersers and have diversified into distinct species only on isolated oceanic islands. Trichixos, a poor disperser, is restricted to mature forests of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. Copsychus shamas are intermediate in habitat preference and dispersal capabilities. Their endemism in the Philippines may be attributed to early colonization and specialization to interior forests. In the Greater Sundas, C. malabaricus and C. saularis populations split and came together on Borneo to form two separate subspecies (of each species), which now hybridize.