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Open Access Research article

Recent range-wide demographic expansion in a Taiwan endemic montane bird, Steere's Liocichla (Liocichla steerii)

Bailey D McKay12*, Herman L Mays3, Yi-Wen Peng4, Kenneth H Kozak15, Cheng-Te Yao67 and Hsiao-Wei Yuan4

Author Affiliations

1 Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN 55108, USA

2 Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN 55108, USA

3 Geier Collections and Research Building, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati, OH 45203, USA

4 School of Forestry and Resource Conservation, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

5 Department of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN 55108, USA

6 Endemic Species Research Institute, Council of Agriculture, Jiji, Taiwan

7 Department of Life Sciences, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-71

Published: 10 March 2010

Abstract

Background

The subtropical island of Taiwan is an area of high endemism and a complex topographic environment. Phylogeographic studies indicate that vicariance caused by Taiwan's mountains has subdivided many taxa into genetic phylogroups. We used mitochondrial DNA sequences and nuclear microsatellites to test whether the evolutionary history of an endemic montane bird, Steere's Liocichla (Liocichla steerii), fit the general vicariant paradigm for a montane organism.

Results

We found that while mountains appear to channel gene flow they are not a significant barrier for Steere's Liocichla. Recent demographic expansion was evident, and genetic diversity was relatively high across the island, suggesting expansion from multiple areas rather than a few isolated refugia. Ecological niche modeling corroborated the molecular results and suggested that populations of Steere's Liocichla are connected by climatically suitable habitat and that there was less suitable habitat during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Conclusions

Genetic and ecological niche modeling data corroborate a single history--Steere's Liocichla was at lower density during the Last Glacial Maximum and has subsequently expanded in population density. We suggest that such a range-wide density expansion might be an overlooked cause for the genetic patterns of demographic expansion that are regularly reported. We find significant differences among some populations in FST indices and an admixture analysis. Though both of these results are often used to suggest conservation action, we affirm that statistically significant results are not necessarily biologically meaningful and we urge caution when interpreting highly polymorphic data such as microsatellites.