Gene trees, species trees and Earth history combine to shed light on the evolution of migration in a model avian system. Academic Article uri icon


  • The evolution of migration in birds has fascinated biologists for centuries. In this study, we performed phylogenetic-based analyses of Catharus thrushes, a model genus in the study of avian migration, and their close relatives. For these analyses, we used both mitochondrial and nuclear genes, and the resulting phylogenies were used to trace migratory traits and biogeographic patterns. Our results provide the first robust assessment of relationships within Catharus and relatives and indicate that both mitochondrial and autosomal genes contribute to overall support of the phylogeny. Measures of phylogenetic informativeness indicated that mitochondrial genes provided more signal within Catharus than did nuclear genes, whereas nuclear loci provided more signal for relationships between Catharus and close relatives than did mitochondrial genes. Insertion and deletion events also contributed important support across the phylogeny. Across all taxa included in the study, and for Catharus, possession of long-distance migration is reconstructed as the ancestral condition, and a North American (north of Mexico) ancestral area is inferred. Within Catharus, sedentary behaviour evolved after the first speciation event in the genus and is geographically and temporally correlated with Central American distributions and the final closure of the Central American Seaway. Migratory behaviour subsequently evolved twice in Catharus and is geographically and temporally correlated with a recolonization of North America in the late Pleistocene. By temporally linking speciation events with changes in migratory condition and events in Earth history, we are able to show support for several competing hypotheses relating to the geographic origin of migration.

published proceedings

  • Mol Ecol

altmetric score

  • 10.54

author list (cited authors)

  • Voelker, G., Bowie, R., & Klicka, J.

citation count

  • 33

complete list of authors

  • Voelker, Gary||Bowie, Rauri CK||Klicka, John

publication date

  • June 2013