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PLoS One. 2017 Aug 9;12(8):e0181441. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181441. eCollection 2017.

Non-sister Sri Lankan white-eyes (genus Zosterops) are a result of independent colonizations.

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Avian Evolution Node, Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
National Center for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, India.
Biology Department, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


Co-occurrence of closely related taxa on islands could be attributed to sympatric speciation or multiple colonization. Sympatric speciation is considered to be rare in small islands, however multiple colonizations are known to be common in both oceanic and continental islands. In this study we investigated the phylogenetic relatedness and means of origin of the two sympatrically co-occurring Zosterops white-eyes, the endemic Zosterops ceylonensis and its widespread regional congener Z. palpebrosus, in the island of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a continental island in the Indian continental shelf of the Northern Indian Ocean. Our multivariate morphometric analyses confirmed the phenotypic distinctness of the two species. Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses with ~2000bp from two mitochondrial (ND2 and ND3) and one nuclear (TGF) gene indicated that they are phylogenetically distinct, and not sister to each other. The two subspecies of the peninsula India; Z. p. egregius of Sri Lanka and India and Z. p. nilgiriensis of Western Ghats (India) clustered within the Z. palpebrosus clade having a common ancestor. In contrast, the divergence of the endemic Z. ceylonensis appears to be much deeper and is basal to the other Zosterops white-eyes. Therefore we conclude that the two Zosterops species originated in the island through independent colonizations from different ancestral lineages, and not through island speciation or multiple colonization from the same continental ancestral population. Despite high endemism, Sri Lankan biodiversity is long considered to be a subset of southern India. This study on a speciose group with high dispersal ability and rapid diversification rate provide evidence for the contribution of multiple colonizations in shaping Sri Lanka's biodiversity. It also highlights the complex biogeographic patterns of the South Asian region, reflected even in highly vagile groups such as birds.

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