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

Bailey D. McKay, Herman L. Mays, Yi Wen Peng, Kenneth H Kozak, Cheng Te Yao, Hsiao Wei Yuan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


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 FSTindices 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number71
JournalBMC evolutionary biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010

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