Associations between physical isolation and geographical variation within three species of Neotropical birds

J. D. Brawn, T. M. Collins, M. Medina, E. Bermingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We studied effects of physical isolation on geographical variation in mtDNA RFLP polymorphisms and a suite of morphological characters within three species of neotropical forest birds; the crimson-backed tanager Ramphocelus dimidiatus, the blue-gray tanager Thraupis episcopus, and the streaked saltator Saltator albicollis. Variation among populations within continuous habitat on the Isthmus of Panama was compared with that among island populations isolated for about 10000 years. Putative barriers to dispersal were influential, but apparent isolation effects varied by species, geographical scale, and whether molecular or morphological traits were being assessed. We found no geographical structuring among the contiguous, mainland sampling sites. Migration rates among the islands appeared sufficient to maintain homogeneity in mtDNA haplotype frequencies. In contrast, variation in external morphology among islands was significant within two of three species. For all species, we found significant variation in genetic and morphological traits between the island (collectively) and mainland populations. Interspecific variation in the effects of isolation was likely related to differential vagility. These data generally corroborate other studies reporting relatively great geographical structuring within tropical birds over short distances. Behaviourally based traits - low vagility and high 'sensitivity' to geographical barriers - may underlie extensive diversification within neotropical forest birds, but more extensive ecological and phylogeographic information are needed on a diverse sample of species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-46
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Birds
  • Dispersal
  • Gene flow
  • Geographical variation
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Neotropics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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