Genetics, morphology, and ecological niche modeling do not support the subspecies status of the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)

Robert M. Zink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) breeds throughout much of the United States, northwestern Mexico, and southeastern and southwestern Canada. A subspecies found in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, E. t. extimus (Southwestern Willow Flycatcher), is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This subspecies was described in 1948, based on comparisons of a few external morphological characters from an unstated number of specimens and localities, although it was excluded from the last official list of subspecies by the American Ornithologists' Union. Like most avian subspecies, its validity has not been tested with modern morphological or genetic methods. Recent assessments of the subspecies have assumed it to be a distinct taxon, and some authors have limited their comparisons to E. t. extimus versus E. t. adastus (the subspecies immediately to the north of E. t. extimus), excluding comparison to western (E. t. brewsteri) and eastern (E. t. traillii) subspecies. To test subspecies limits, I reanalyzed available quantitative data on plumage coloration, and genetic variation in mitochondrial DNA and nuclear loci, and found no support for the distinctiveness of the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. A test of niche divergence suggested that the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher does not have a significantly different climatic niche from its nearest geographic neighbor, E. t. adastus. I suggest that the Willow Flycatchers of the Southwest represent peripheral populations of an otherwise widespread species that do not merit subspecific recognition, and are therefore inappropriately listed as endangered under the ESA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-86
Number of pages11
JournalCondor
Volume117
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

Keywords

  • Endangered Species Act
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Niche modeling
  • Plumage coloration
  • Subspecies
  • Willow Flycatcher

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