Aim Zoogeographic patterns in the Himalayas and their neighbouring Southeast Asian mountain ranges include elevational parapatry and ecological segregation, particularly among passerine bird species. We estimate timings of lineage splits among close relatives from the north Palaearctic, the Sino-Himalayan mountain forests and from adjacent Southeast Asia. We also compare phylogeographic affinities and timing of radiation among members of avian communities from different elevational belts.
Location East Asia.
Methods We reconstructed molecular phylogenies based on a mitochondrial marker (cytochrome b) and multilocus data sets for seven passerine groups: Aegithalidae, Certhiidae (Certhia), Fringillidae (Pyrrhula), Paridae (Periparus), Phylloscopidae, Regulidae and Timaliidae (Garrulax sensu lato). Molecular dating was carried out using a Bayesian approach applying a relaxed clock in beast. Time estimates were inferred from three independent calibrations based on either a fixed mean substitution rate or fixed node ages. The biogeographic history of each group was reconstructed using a parsimony-based approach.
Results Passerine radiation in Southeast Asia can be divided into roughly three major phases of separation events. We infer that an initial Miocene radiation within the Southeast Asian region included invasions of (sub)tropical faunal elements from the Indo-Burmese region to the Himalayan foothills and further successive invasions to Central Asia and Taiwan towards the early Pliocene. During two further Pliocene/Pleistocene phases, the subalpine mountain belt of the Sino-Himalayas was initially invaded by boreal species with clear phylogenetic affinities to the north Palaearctic taiga belt. Most terminal splits between boreal Himalayan/Chinese sister taxa were dated to the Pleistocene.
Main conclusions Extant patterns of elevational parapatry and faunal transition in the Sino-Himalayas originated from successive invasions from different climatic regions. The initiation of Southeast Asian passerine diversification and colonization of the Himalayan foothills in the mid-Miocene coincides with the postulated onset of Asian monsoon climate and the resulting floral and faunal turnovers. Patterns of elevational parapatry were established by southward invasions of boreal avifaunal elements to the subalpine Sino-Himalayan forest belt that were strongly connected to climate cooling towards the end of the Pliocene. Current patterns of allopatry and parapatry in boreal species (groups) were shaped through Pleistocene forest fragmentation in East Asia.