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Keywords:

  • Amazon;
  • diversification;
  • neotropics;
  • Pyriglena ;
  • refuges;
  • rivers;
  • speciation

Abstract

The identification of ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that might account for the elevated biotic diversity in tropical forests is a central theme in evolutionary biology. This issue is especially relevant in the Neotropical region, where biological diversity is the highest in the world, but where few studies have been conducted to test factors causing population differentiation and speciation. We used mtDNA sequence data to examine the genetic structure within white-backed fire-eye (Pyriglena leuconota) populations along the Tocantins River valley in the south-eastern Amazon Basin, and we confront the predictions of the river and the Pleistocene refuge hypotheses with patterns of genetic variation observed in these populations. We also investigated whether these patterns reflect the recently detected shift in the course of the Tocantins River. We sampled a total of 32 individuals east of, and 52 individuals west of, the Tocantins River. Coalescent simulations and phylogeographical and population genetics analytical approaches revealed that mtDNA variation observed for fire-eye populations provides little support for the hypothesis that populations were isolated in glacial forest refuges. Instead, our data strongly support a key prediction of the river hypothesis. Our study shows that the Tocantins River has probably been the historical barrier promoting population divergence in fire-eye antbirds. Our results have important implications for a better understanding of the importance of large Amazonian rivers in vertebrate diversification in the Neotropics.