Background. The role of Pleistocene glacial oscillations in current biodiversity and distribution patterns varies with latitude, physical topology and population life history and has long been a topic of discussion. However, there had been little phylogeographical research in south China, where the geophysical complexity is associated with great biodiversity. A bird endemic in Southeast Asia, the Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Alcippe morrisonia, has been reported to show deep genetic divergences among its seven subspecies. In the present study, we investigated the phylogeography of A. morrisonia to explore its population structure and evolutionary history, in order to gain insight into the effect of geological events on the speciation and diversity of birds endemic in south China. Results. Mitochondrial genes cytochrome b (Cytb) and cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) were represented by 1236 nucleotide sites from 151 individuals from 29 localities. Phylogenetic analysis showed seven monophyletic clades congruent with the geographically separated groups, which were identified as major sources of molecular variance (90.92%) by AMOVA. TCS analysis revealed four disconnected networks, and that no haplotype was shared among the geographical groups. The common ancestor of these populations was dated to 11.6 Mya and several divergence events were estimated along the population evolutionary history. Isolation by distance was inferred by NCPA to be responsible for the current intra-population genetic pattern and gene flow among geographical groups was interrupted. A late Pleistocene demographic expansion was detected in the eastern geographical groups, while the expansion time (0.20.4 Mya) was earlier than the Last Glacial Maximum. Conclusion. It is proposed that the complicated topology preserves high genetic diversity and ancient lineages for geographical groups of A. morrisonia in China mainland and its two major islands, and restricts gene exchange during climate oscillations. Isolation by distance seems to be an important factor of genetic structure formation within geographical populations. Although glacial influence to population fluctuation was observed in late Pleistocene, it seems that populations in eastern China were more susceptible to climate change, and all geographical groups were growing stably through the Last Glacial Maximum. Coalescence analysis suggested that the ancestor of A. morrisonia might be traced back to the late Miocene, and the current phylogeographical structure of A. morrisonia is more likely to be attributable to a series geological events than to Pleistocene glacial cycles.
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