Demographic consequences of foraging ecology explain genetic diversification in Neotropical bird species

Matthew J. Miller, Eldredge Bermingham, Benjamin L. Turner, Justin C. Touchon, Andrew B. Johnson, Kevin Winker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Despite evidence that species’ traits affect rates of bird diversification, biogeographic studies tend to prioritise earth history in Neotropical bird speciation. Here we compare mitochondrial genetic differentiation among 56 co-distributed Neotropical bird species with varying ecologies. The trait ‘diet’ best predicted divergence, with plant-dependent species (mostly frugivores and nectivores) showing lower levels of genetic divergence than insectivores or mixed-diet species. We propose that the greater vagility and demographic instability of birds whose diets rely on fruit, seeds, or nectar . known to vary in abundance seasonally and between years . relative to birds that eat primarily insects, drives episodic re-unification of otherwise isolated populations, resetting the divergence ‘clock’. Testing this prediction using coalescent simulations, we find that plant-dependent species show stronger signals of recent demographic expansion compared to insectivores or mixed-diet species, consistent with this hypothesis. Our study provides evidence that localised ecological phenomena scale up to generate larger macroevolutionary patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-571
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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