Aim To evaluate the role of historical processes in the evolution of Sclerurus leaftossers by integrating phylogenetic and phylogeographical approaches.
Location Humid forests of the Neotropical region.
Methods We reconstructed the evolutionary history of Sclerurus based on DNA sequences representing all species and 20 of the 26 recognized subspecies using one autosomal nuclear locus and three protein-coding mitochondrial gene sequences. Phylogenetic relationships were inferred using Bayesian and maximum-likelihood methods. We used Bayesian coalescent-based approaches to evaluate demographic changes through time, and to estimate the timing of diversification events. Based on these results, we examined the temporal accumulation of divergence events using lineage-through-time plots.
Results The monophyly of all Sclerurus species was strongly supported except for Sclerurus mexicanus, which was paraphyletic in relation to Sclerurus rufigularis, and for the sister pair Sclerurus scansor–Sclerurus albigularis, which were not reciprocally monophyletic in the nuclear tree. We found remarkably deep phylogeographical structure within all Sclerurus species, and overall this structure was congruent with currently recognized subspecies and Neotropical areas of endemism. Diversification within Sclerurus has occurred at a relatively constant rate since the Middle Miocene.
Main conclusions Our results strongly support the relevance of physiographical (e.g. Nicaragua Depression, Isthmus of Panama, Andean Cordillera, great rivers of Amazonia) and ecological barriers (open vegetation corridor) and ecological gradients (elevational zonation) to the diversification of Neotropical forest-dwelling organisms. Despite the high congruence among the spatial patterns identified, the variance in divergence times suggests multiple speciation events occurring independently across the same barrier, and a role for dispersal. The phylogenetic patterns and cryptic diversity uncovered in this study demonstrate that the current taxonomy of Sclerurus underestimates the number of species.
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