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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2015

Integrative taxonomy of the Russet Bush Warbler Locustella mandelli complex reveals a new species from central China

Alström, Per; Xia, Canwei; Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Olsson, Urban; Dai, Bo; Zhao, Jian; Leader, Paul J.; Carey, Geoff J.; Dong, Lu; Cai, Tianlong; Holt, Paul I; Le Manh, Hung; Song, Gang; Liu, Yang; Zhang, Yanyun; Lei, Fumin


The Russet Bush Warbler Locustella (previously Bradypterus) mandelli complex occurs in mountains in the eastern Himalayas, southern China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The taxonomy has been debated, with one (L. seebohmi) to four (L. seebohmi, L. mandelli, L. montis and L. timorensis) species having been recognised.

We used an integrative approach, incorporating analyses of morphology, vocalizations and a molecular marker, to re-evaluate species limits in the L. mandelli complex.

We found that central Chinese L. mandelli differed from those from India through northern Southeast Asia to southeast China in plumage, morphometrics and song. All were easily classified by song, and (wing + culmen)/tail ratio overlapped only marginally. Both groups were reciprocally monophyletic in a mitochondrial cytochrome b (cytb) gene tree, with a mean divergence of 1.0 ± 0.2%. They were sympatric and mostly altitudinally segregated in the breeding season in southern Sichuan province. We found that the Mt Victoria (western Myanmar) population differed vocally from other L. mandelli, but no specimens are available. Taiwan Bush Warbler L. alishanensis was sister to the L. mandelli complex, with the most divergent song. Plumage, vocal and cytb evidence supported the distinctness of the south Vietnamese L. mandelli idonea. The Timor Bush Warbler L. timorensis, Javan Bush Warbler L. montis and Benguet Bush Warbler L. seebohmi differed distinctly in plumage, but among-population song variation in L. montis exceeded the differences between some populations of these taxa, and mean pairwise cytb divergences were only 0.5-0.9%. We also found that some L. montis populations differed morphologically.

We conclude that the central Chinese population of Russet Bush Warbler represents a new species, which we describe herein, breeding at mid elevations in Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou provinces. The taxonomic status of the other allopatric populations is less clear. However, as they differ to a degree comparable with that of the sympatric L. mandelli and the new species, we elevate L. idonea to species status, and retain L. seebohmi and L. montis as separate species, the latter with timorensis as a subspecies. Further research should focus on different populations of L. montis and the Mt Victoria population of L. mandelli.


Bradypterus Cryptic species Locustella seebohmi Locustella mandelli Locustella montis Locustella timorensis Locustella alishanensis Locustella idonea Integrative taxonomy

Published in

Avian Research
2015, volume: 6, article number: 9

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Swedish Species Information Centre
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Xia, Canwei
Beijing Normal University
Rasmussen, Pamela C.
Michigan State University
Olsson, Urban
University of Gothenburg
Dai, Bo
Leshan Normal University
Zhao, Jian
Sun Yat-sen University
Leader, Paul J.
Carey, Geoff J.
Dong, Lu
Beijing Normal University
Cai, Tianlong
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Holt, Paul I
Le Manh, Hung
Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources
Song, Gang
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Liu, Yang
Sun Yat-sen University
Zhang, Yanyun
Beijing Normal University
Lei, Fumin
Chinese Academy of Sciences

UKÄ Subject classification

Biological Systematics
Evolutionary Biology
Bioinformatics and Systems Biology

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