Increasing evidence of post-divergence gene flow between taxa is shifting our understanding on the mode of speciation. A fundamental question arises concerning the circumstances under which strict allopatric speciation still holds true. Sky island populations might undergo reduced gene flow by niche conservatism to highland habitats and follow divergence in an allopatric manner. In this study, we tested this hypothesis in the sky island Grey-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythaca) species complex via statistical analyses of both genetic and ecological data. Results of coalescent-based analysis of multiple nuclear loci suggested that P. e. owstoni likely colonized Taiwan island during the severe mid-Pleistocene glacial climate followed by strictly allopatric divergence from P. e. erythaca distributed in Himalayas-Hengduan mountains and central North China. Results of ecological niche modeling suggested that their speciation may be attributed to the niche conservatism of these birds and the lack of a suitable ecological corridor during subsequent milder glacial episodes. In addition, we delimited the traditionally defined P. erythaca into two full species, P. erythaca in the Asian mainland and P. owstoni on the island of Taiwan, based on both genetic and behavioural evidences. These results suggest that ecology can have a dynamic role in allowing highland populations to expand their ranges and isolated by habitat barriers to diversify in a strictly allopatric manner.
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