Untangling taxonomic confusion and diversification patterns of the Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers (Timaliidae: Pomatorhinus ruficollis complex) in southern Asia

Sushma Reddy, Sarah Sharief, Laurel R. Yohe, Julie Witkowski, Peter A. Hosner, Árpád S. Nyári, Robert G. Moyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Biodiversity patterns in Asia are poorly understood due to inferences drawn from incorrect taxonomy and limited survey effort. The Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers (Pomatorhinus ruficollis complex) have a wide distribution across southern Asia and exhibit a high degree of plumage variability within and among populations. Continued use of traditional subspecies designations over revised species-limits based on plumage and DNA sequence data furthers confusion in this group and obscures complex biogeographic patterns. In this study, we combined previously published DNA sequences with newly sampled populations to produce a comprehensive dataset for the ruficollis complex. Phylogenetic analysis of these data confirms that traditional subspecies based on plumage alone are paraphyletic and therefore not good descriptors of evolutionary history. With increased sampling, our study supported previous delimitations of phylogenetic species as distinct units, refined the range limits of two taxa - P. reconditus (throughout central China) and P. nigrostellatus (Hainan, Guangxi, N Vietnam), showed two additional clades that may be distinct species, and uncovered a 'suture' zone where populations of multiple species occur in the same localities. Diversification within the ruficollis complex indicates a clade of Sino-Himalayan and SE Asian species sister to a clade distributed in central and southern China species. The 'suture' zone where different ruficollis species are in contact coincides with the meeting of these four major geographic areas in a highly geomorphologically complex region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-192
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue numberPA
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB-0962078 to SR; DEB-0743576 to RGM). S.S., L.Y., J.W. were funded by REU supplement grants (to S.R.) and the Loyola Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. We thank Rachel Baker for technical assistance in the lab.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Inc.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Asia
  • Biogeography
  • Birds
  • Phylogenetics
  • Species-limits
  • Taxonomy


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