Babbington, J., Boland, C.R.J., Kirwan, G.M. et al. Morphological differences between ‘Mangrove White-eye’ and montane Abyssinian White-eye (Zosterops abyssinicus arabs) in Arabia despite no differentiation in mitochondrial DNA: incipient speciation via niche divergence?. J Ornithol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-020-01788-3
The Arabian population of the Abyssinian White-eye Zosterops abyssinicus arabs occurs in the Asir Mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia, the highlands of Yemen, and southwest Oman. In Saudi Arabia, a recently discovered, very small, and enigmatic population of white-eyes Zosterops sp. indet. occurs in stands of mature mangroves on the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast 80–100 km west of the nearest locality of Z. a. arabs in the Asir Mountains. We obtained biometric data and blood samples from individuals of both populations, in the Asir Mountains and the Red Sea mangroves, complemented by measurements from museum specimens from throughout the range of Z. a. arabs. The mangrove-dwelling white-eyes were found to differ in morphometrics and several plumage characters from montane Abyssinian White-eyes Z. a. arabs. However, no differences were revealed by one mitochondrial marker between four ‘Mangrove White-eyes’ and five Z. a. arabs from the Asir Mountains. ‘Mangrove White-eyes’ might thus represent the result of a recent colonization followed by niche divergence, and a putative case of incipient speciation in one of the fastest-radiating vertebrate lineages. A review of the scant available literature and our own surveys indicate that the ‘Mangrove White-eye’ is very scarce within a highly restricted and threatened range, and presumably at risk of extinction.