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Phylogeography of the Eurasian green woodpecker (Picus viridis)

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Abstract Aim 

In this paper we investigate the evolutionary history of the Eurasian green woodpecker (Picus viridis) using molecular markers. We specifically focus on the respective roles of Pleistocene climatic oscillations and geographical barriers in shaping the current population genetics within this species. In addition, we discuss the validity of current species and subspecies limits. Location 

Western Palaearctic: Europe to western Russia, and Africa north of the Sahara. Methods 

We sequenced two mitochondrial genes and five nuclear introns for 17 Eurasian green woodpeckers. Multilocus phylogenetic analyses were conducted using maximum likelihood and Bayesian algorithms. In addition, we sequenced a fragment of the cytochrome b gene (cyt b, 427 bp) and of the Z-linked BRM intron 15 for 113 and 85 individuals, respectively. The latter data set was analysed using population genetic methods. Results 

Our phylogenetic results support the monophyly of Picus viridis and suggest that this taxon comprises three allopatric/parapatric lineages distributed in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, respectively. The North African lineage split from the Iberian/European clade during the early Pleistocene (1.6–2.2 Ma). The divergence event between the Iberian and the European lineages occurred during the mid-Pleistocene (0.7–1.2 Ma). Our results also support a post-glacial range expansion of these two lineages from distinct refugia located in the Iberian Peninsula and possibly in eastern Europe or Anatolia, which led to the establishment of a secondary contact zone in southern France. Main conclusions 

Our results emphasize the crucial role of both Pleistocene climatic oscillations and geographical barriers (Strait of Gibraltar, Pyrenees chain) in shaping the current genetic structure of the Eurasian green woodpecker. Our molecular data, in combination with diagnosable plumage characters, suggest that the North African green woodpecker (Levaillant’s woodpecker) merits species rank as Picus vaillantii (Malherbe, 1847). The two European lineages could be distinguished by molecular and phenotypic characters over most of their respective geographical ranges, but they locally exchange genes in southern France. Consequently, we prefer to treat them as subspecies (P. viridis viridis, P. viridis sharpei) pending further studies.

Keywords: Climatic oscillations; Picidae; Picus viridis; Pleistocene; Western Palaearctic; geographical barriers; glacial refugia; species limits; suture zones; woodpeckers

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: 190 rue de l’industrie, 11210 Port la Nouvelle, France 2: Genoscope, Centre National de Séquençage, 2 rue Gaston Crémieux, CP5706, 91057 Evry Cedex, France

Publication date: February 1, 2011


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