Aim We examined patterns of spatial and temporal diversification of the Amazonian endemic chestnut-tailed antbird, Mymeciza hemimelaena (Thamnophilidae), to evaluate the diversification of a widespread avian taxon across rivers that potentially represent major natural barriers.
Location Lowland Amazonia.
Methods Sequences of the mitochondrial ND2 and cytochrome b genes were investigated from 65 individuals distributed throughout the entire range of M. hemimelaena, and including the two currently valid subspecies M. h. hemimelaena and M. h. pallens. Based on a combination of phylogeographic tools, molecular dating, and population genetic methods, we reconstructed a spatio-temporal scenario of diversification of M. hemimelaena in the Amazon.
Results The data revealed three genetically divergent and monophyletic groups in M. hemimelaena, which can also be distinguished by a combination of morphological and vocal characters. Two of these clades correspond to the previously described taxa M. h. hemimelaena and M. h. pallens, which are separated by the upper Madeira River, a main Amazonian tributary. The third clade is distributed between the middle reaches of the Madeira River and the much smaller tributaries Jiparaná and Aripuanã, and, although currently treated as M. h. pallens, clearly constitutes an independent evolutionary lineage probably deserving separate species status. Molecular clock and population genetic analyses indicate that diversification in this group occurred throughout the Pleistocene, with demographic fluctuations assumed for M. h. hemimelaena and M. h. pallens.
Main conclusions The findings implicate rivers as barriers driving diversification in the M. hemimelaena complex. Levels of mitochondrial DNA divergence and associated morphological and vocal traits support its division into at least three separate species with comparatively small ranges. The existence of a previously unrecognized lineage in the M. hemimelaena complex, and the high degree of population structuring found in M. h. hemimelaena underscore the pervasiveness of cryptic endemism throughout Amazonia and the importance of DNA-based taxonomic and phylogeographic studies in providing the accurate estimates of diversity that are essential for conservation planning.