Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Speciation and Ecological Niche Divergence of a Boreal Forest Bird Species Complex
by FitzGerald, Alyssa, Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2017, 165; 10276556
Abstract (Summary)

Evolutionary biologists are supremely interested in the events that cause populations to diverge and speciate, and the mechanisms that maintain divergence over time. Here, I investigate the evolutionary history of a boreal bird species complex. Boreal bird species are co-distributed, diverged during the Pleistocene, and generally have patterns of genetic divergence that are consistent with a single “boreal” clade in northern and eastern North America. The Gray-cheeked Thrush species complex, however, shows a possible species break in eastern North America between the Bicknell’s Thrush ( Catharus bicknelli) and Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus ). Using population genetic and genomic analyses of the largest sampling to-date of either species, I find that the eastern break indeed coincides with a species-level divergence, although low levels of admixture in a few individuals and one probable hybrid hint at the possibility of occasional hybridization. Species distribution models (SDMs) of the Last Glacial Maximum revealed that divergence may have been maintained by residence in different late-Pleistocene refugia. However, because speciation occurred mid-Pleistocene, I examined the geographical context of divergence of the Bicknell’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush using multivariate analyses and ecological niche modeling techniques of local-scale habitat data and broad-scale climate and tree species distributions. Local-scale habitat analyses reveal that the thrushes breed at sites with unique tree species composition, physiognomy (forest structure), and ground cover characteristics; furthermore broad-scale analyses reveal that niche divergence, rather than conservatism, was the predominant pattern for these species, suggesting that ecological divergence has played a role in their speciation. This dissertation supports the hypothesis that the Bicknell’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush are distinctive species that breed in divergent local- and broad-scale niches and emphasizes that this species-level divergence seems unique among boreal bird species.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kirchman, Jeremy J., Robinson, George
Commitee: Gonder, M. Katherine, Stewart, Caro-Beth
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: Biology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-B 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Biology, Ecology, Conservation
Keywords: Bicknell's Thrush, Catharus, Ecological speciation, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Niche conservatism, Niche divergence
Publication Number: 10276556
ISBN: 978-1-369-79022-1
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