How migratory thrushes conquered northern North America: A comparative phylogeography approach

Carrie M. Topp, Christin L. Pruett, Kevin G. McCracken, Kevin Winker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Five species of migratory thrushes (Turdidae) occupy a transcontinental distribution across northern North America. They have largely overlapping breeding ranges, relatively similar ecological niches, and mutualistic relationships with northern woodland communities as insectivores and seed-dispersing frugivores. As an assemblage of ecologically similar species, and given other vertebrate studies, we predicted a shared pattern of genetic divergence among these species between their eastern and western populations, and also that the timing of the coalescent events might be similar and coincident with historical glacial events. To determine how these five lineages effectively established transcontinental distributions, we used mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences to assess genetic structure and lineage coalescence from populations on each side of the continent. Two general patterns occur. Hermit and Swainson's thrushes (Catharus guttatus and C. ustulatus) have relatively deep divergences between eastern and western phylogroups, probably reflecting shared historic vicariance. The Veery (C. fuscescens), Gray-cheeked Thrush (C. minimus), and American Robin (Turdus migratorius) have relatively shallow divergences between eastern and western populations. However, coalescent and approximate Bayesian computational analyses indicated that among all species as many as five transcontinental divergence events occurred. Divergence within both Hermit and Swainson's thrushes resembled the divergence between Gray-cheeked Thrushes and Veeries and probably occurred during a similar time period. Despite these species' ecological similarities, the assemblage exhibits heterogeneity at the species level in how they came to occupy transcontinental northern North America but two general continental patterns at an among-species organizational level, likely related to lineage age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number206
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Community assembly
  • Community phylogeography
  • Ecological evolutionary genetics
  • Ecology
  • Phylogeography
  • Population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'How migratory thrushes conquered northern North America: A comparative phylogeography approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this