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PLoS Biol. 2017 Apr 13;15(4):e2001073. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2001073. eCollection 2017 Apr.

A latitudinal phylogeographic diversity gradient in birds.

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Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York, United States of America.
Museum of Natural Science and Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States of America.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America.


High tropical species diversity is often attributed to evolutionary dynamics over long timescales. It is possible, however, that latitudinal variation in diversification begins when divergence occurs within species. Phylogeographic data capture this initial stage of diversification in which populations become geographically isolated and begin to differentiate genetically. There is limited understanding of the broader implications of intraspecific diversification because comparative analyses have focused on species inhabiting and evolving in restricted regions and environments. Here, we scale comparative phylogeography up to the hemisphere level and examine whether the processes driving latitudinal differences in species diversity are also evident within species. We collected genetic data for 210 New World bird species distributed across a broad latitudinal gradient and estimated a suite of metrics characterizing phylogeographic history. We found that lower latitude species had, on average, greater phylogeographic diversity than higher latitude species and that intraspecific diversity showed evidence of greater persistence in the tropics. Factors associated with species ecologies, life histories, and habitats explained little of the variation in phylogeographic structure across the latitudinal gradient. Our results suggest that the latitudinal gradient in species richness originates, at least partly, from population-level processes within species and are consistent with hypotheses implicating age and environmental stability in the formation of diversity gradients. Comparative phylogeographic analyses scaled up to large geographic regions and hundreds of species can show connections between population-level processes and broad-scale species-richness patterns.

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