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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2015

Dramatic niche shifts and morphological change in two insular bird species

Alström, Per; Jönsson,, Knud A; Ödeen, Anders; Fjeldså, Jon; Ericson, Per G.P.; Irestedt, Martin;


Colonizations of islands are often associated with rapid morphological divergence. We present two previously unrecognized cases of dramatic morphological change and niche shifts in connection with colonization of tropical forest-covered islands. These evolutionary changes have concealed the fact that the passerine birds madanga, Madanga ruficollis, from Buru, Indonesia, and São Tomé shorttail, Amaurocichla bocagii, from São Tomé, Gulf of Guinea, are forest-adapted members of the family Motacillidae (pipits and wagtails). We show that Madanga has diverged mainly in plumage, which may be the result of selection for improved camouflage in its new arboreal niche, while selection pressures for other morphological changes have probably been weak owing to preadaptations for the novel niche. By contrast, we suggest that Amaurocichla's niche change has led to divergence in both structure and plumage.


speciation, adaptive change, niche shifts, morphological divergence

Published in

Royal Society Open Science

2015, volume: 2, number: 3

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Swedish Species Information Centre
Jönsson,, Knud A
University of Copenhagen
Ödeen, Anders (Ödeen, Anders)
Uppsala University
Fjeldså, Jon
Ericson, Per G.P.
Swedish Museum of Natural History
Irestedt, Martin
Swedish Museum of Natural History

UKÄ Subject classification

Bioinformatics and Systems Biology
Biological Systematics
Evolutionary Biology

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