Birds living in riverine environments may show weak population structure because high dispersal abilities required to track habitat dynamics can result in gene flow over broad spatial scales. Alternatively, the configuration of river networks may result in restricted dispersal within river courses or basins, leading to high genetic structure. Although several bird species are riverine specialists in the Andes, no study has extensively evaluated the population genetic structure of any of them. We examined evidence from genetic and morphological data to address questions about the biogeography and taxonomy of the Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata), a riverine specialist bird with a broad distribution in Andean riverine habitats which certainly comprises different subspecies and may comprise more than one species. We found deep subdivisions of Torrent Duck populations from the northern, central and southern portions of the Andes. These lineages, which partly coincide with subspecies described based on plumage variation and body size, do not share mtDNA haplotypes, have private nuclear alleles and exhibit marked differences in morphometric traits. Some geographic barriers presumably restricting gene flow between groups partially coincide with those associated with major genetic breaks in forest species with similar distributions along the Andes, suggesting that bird assemblages including species occupying different habitats were likely affected by common biogeographical events. The three groups of Torrent Ducks may be considered different species under some species definitions and are distinct evolutionary lineages to be conserved and managed separately.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Molecular Biology