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Cooper Ornithological Society





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The Timberline Sparrow (Spizella taverneri), although originally described as a species, is currently classified as a subspecies of the more widespread Brewer's Sparrow (S. breweri). We investigated the taxonomic status and recent evolutionary history of these species by comparison of both morphological and molecular characters. Morphometric comparisons using 6 external and 18 skeletal measurements show that S. taverneri specimens from two widely separated populations (Yukon and southwestern Alberta, Canada) are indistinguishable with respect to size yet are significantly larger (by 3%) than representatives of several breweri populations. Analysis of 1,413 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) for 10 breweri and 5 taverneri samples representing widely scattered breeding populations revealed a maximum divergence among any breweri-taverneri pair of 0.21% and an overall average of 0.13%. In contrast, the average (± SE) pairwise distance among the other Spizella species is 5.7 ± 0.5%. We discovered that breweri and taverneri could be distinguished on the basis of a single, fixed nucleotide difference. Of an additional 11 taverneri and 8 breweri surveyed for this diagnostic site, a single bird (morphologically a taverneri) from northwest British Columbia did not sort to "type." Overall, 18 of 18 breweri and 15 of 16 taverneri were diagnosable. We interpret these results to suggest that gene flow does not currently occur between these two forms and that each is on an independent, albeit recently derived, evolutionary course. The molecular data are consistent with theoretical expectations of a Late Pleistocene speciation event. We believe that for passerine birds, this is the first empirical validation of this widely accepted evolutionary model. The data presented corroborate plumage, vocal, and ecological evidence suggesting that these taxa are distinct. As such, we suggest that Spizella taverneri be recognized as a species.


Birds--Speciation; Divergence (Biology); Molecular genetics; Passeriformes; Phylogeography


Biodiversity | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Molecular Genetics | Ornithology




Published as The Condor Vol. 101, No. 3, Aug., 1999. © 1999 by the Regents of the University of California/The Cooper Ornithological Society. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California/on behalf of The Cooper Ornithological Society for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on [JSTOR (] or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,



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