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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Apr 22;272(1565):819-26.

Habitat selection and ecological speciation in Galápagos warbler finches (Certhidea olivacea and Certhidea fusca).

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, OH 45221-0006, USA.


We investigated phylogeographic divergence among populations of Galápagos warble finches. Their broad distribution, lack of phenotypic differentiation and low levels of genetic divergence make warbler finches an appropriate model to study speciation in allopatry. A positive relationship between genetic and geographical distance is expected for island taxa. Warbler finches actually showed a negative isolation by distance relationship, causing us to reject the hypothesis of distance-limited dispersal. An alternative hypothesis, that dispersal is limited by habitat similarity, was supported. We found a positive correlation between genetic distances and differences in maximum elevation among islands, which is an indicator of ecological similarity. MtDNA sequence variation revealed monophyletic support for two distinct species. Certhidea olivacea have recently dispersed among larger central islands, while some Certhidea fusca have recently dispersed to small islands at opposite ends of the archipelago. We conclude that females have chosen to breed on islands with habitats similar to their natal environment. Habitat selection is implicated as an important component of speciation of warbler finches, which is the earliest known divergence of the adaptive radiation of Darwin's finches. These results suggest that small populations can harbour cryptic but biologically meaningful variation that may affect longer term evolutionary processes.

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