Flightless brown kiwis of New Zealand possess extremely subdivided population structure and cryptic species like small mammals.
Published on Aug 29, 1995in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America9.58
· DOI :10.1073/pnas.92.18.8254
Abstract Using allozymes and mtDNA sequences from the cytochrome b gene, we report that the brown kiwi has the highest levels of genetic structuring observed in birds. Moreover, the mtDNA sequences are, with two minor exceptions, diagnostic genetic markers for each population investigated, even though they are among the more slowly evolving coding regions in this genome. A major unexpected finding was the concordant split in molecular phylogenies between brown kiwis in the southern South Island and elsewhere in New Zealand. This basic phylogeographic boundary halfway down the South Island coincides with a fixed allele difference in the Hb nuclear locus and strongly suggests that two morphologically cryptic species are currently merged under one polytypic species. This is another striking example of how molecular genetic assays can detect phylogenetic discontinuities that are not reflected in traditional morphologically based taxonomies. However, reanalysis of the morphological characters by using phylogenetic methods revealed that the reason for this discordance is that most are primitive and thus are phylogenetically uninformative. Shared-derived morphological characters support the same relationships evident in the molecular phylogenies and, in concert with the molecular data, suggest that as brown kiwis colonized northward from the southern South Island, they retained many primitive characters that confounded earlier systematists. Strong subdivided population structure and cryptic species in brown kiwis seem to have evolved relatively recently as a consequence of Pleistocene range disjunctions, low dispersal power, and genetic drift in small populations.