Phylogenomics clarifies biogeographic and evolutionary history, and conservation status of West Indian tremblers and thrashers (Aves: Mimidae)

Jeffrey M. DaCosta, Matthew J. Miller, Jennifer L. Mortensen, J. Michael Reed, Robert L. Curry, Michael D. Sorenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The West Indian avifauna has provided fundamental insights into island biogeography, taxon cycles, and the evolution of avian behavior. Our interpretations, however, should rely on robust hypotheses of evolutionary relationships and consistent conclusions about taxonomic status in groups with many endemic island populations. Here we present a phylogenetic study of the West Indian thrashers, tremblers, and allies, an assemblage of at least 5 species found on 29 islands, including what is considered the Lesser Antilles’ only avian radiation. We improve on previous phylogenetic studies of this group by using double-digest restriction site-associated DNA sequencing (ddRAD-seq) to broadly sample loci scattered across the nuclear genome. A variety of analyses, based on either nucleotide variation in 2223 loci recovered in all samples or at 13,282 loci confidently scored as present or absent in all samples, converged on a single well-supported phylogenetic hypothesis. Results indicate that the resident West Indian taxa form a monophyletic group, exclusive of the Neotropical–Nearctic migratory Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis, which breeds in North America; this outcome differs from earlier studies suggesting that Gray Catbird was nested within a clade of island resident species. Thus, our findings imply a single colonization of the West Indies without the need to invoke a subsequent ‘reverse colonization’ of the mainland by West Indian taxa. Additionally, our study is the first to sample both endemic subspecies of the endangered White-breasted Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus. We find that these subspecies have a long history of evolutionary independence with no evidence of gene flow, and are as genetically divergent from each other as other genera in the group. These findings support recognition of R. brachyurus (restricted to Martinique) and the Saint Lucia Thrasher R. sanctaeluciae as two distinct, single-island endemic species, and indicate the need to re-evaluate conservation plans for these taxa. Our results demonstrate the utility of phylogenomic datasets for generating robust systematic hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-205
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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