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Palaeoceanographic changes in the late Pliocene promoted rapid diversification in pelagic seabirds (1 Viewer)

Fred Ruhe

Well-known member
Joan Ferrer Obiol, Helen F. James, R. Terry Chesser, Vincent Bretagnolle, Jacob González-Solís, Julio Rozas, Andreanna J. Welch, Marta Riutort. 2022

Palaeoceanographic changes in the late Pliocene promoted rapid diversification in pelagic seabirds

Journazl of Biogeography 49: 171-188

Abstract and free pdf: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jbi.14291


Palaeoceanographic changes can act as drivers of diversification and speciation, even in highly mobile marine organisms. Shearwaters are a group of globally distributed and highly mobile pelagic seabirds. Despite a recent well-resolved phylogeny, shearwaters have controversial species limits, and show periods of both slow and rapid diversification. Here, we explore the role of palaeoceanographic changes on shearwaters' diversification and speciation. We investigate shearwater biogeography and the evolution of a key phenotypic trait, body size, and we assess the validity of their current taxonomy.




Shearwaters (Order Procellariiformes, Family Procellariidae, Genera Ardenna, Calonectris and Puffinus).


We generated genomic (ddRAD) data to infer a time-calibrated species tree for the shearwaters. We estimated ancestral ranges and evaluated the roles of founder events, vicariance and surface ocean currents in driving diversification. We performed phylogenetic generalised least squares to identify potential predictors of variability in body size along the phylogeny. To assess the validity of the current taxonomy, we analysed genomic patterns of recent shared ancestry and differentiation among shearwater taxa.


We identified a period of high dispersal and rapid speciation during the Late Pliocene–early Pleistocene. Species dispersal appears to be favoured by surface ocean currents, and founder events are supported as the main mode of speciation in these highly mobile pelagic seabirds. Body mass shows significant associations with life strategies and local conditions. The current taxonomy shows some incongruences with the patterns of genomic divergence.

Main Conclusions

A reduction of neritic areas during the Pliocene seems to have driven global extinctions of shearwater species, followed by a subsequent burst of speciation and dispersal probably promoted by Plio-Pleistocene climatic shifts. Our findings extend our understanding on the drivers of speciation and dispersal of highly mobile pelagic seabirds and shed new light on the important role of palaeoceanographic events.


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