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Asynchronous diversification and distinct demographic trajectories in Ethiopian montane forest bird (Aves: Passeriformes) populations separated by the Great Rift Valley
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  • Joseph Manthey,
  • Yann Bourgeois,
  • Yonas Meheretu,
  • Stephane Boissinot
Joseph Manthey
New York University - Abu Dhabi
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Yann Bourgeois
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Yonas Meheretu
Mekelle University
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Stephane Boissinot
New York University - Abu Dhabi
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Taxon-specific characteristics and extrinsic climatic and geological forces may both shape population differentiation and speciation. In geographically and taxonomically focused investigations, differentiation may occur synchronously as species respond to the same external conditions. Conversely, when evolution is investigated in taxa with largely varying traits, population differentiation and speciation is complex and shaped by interactions of Earth’s template and species-specific traits. As such, it is important to characterize evolutionary histories broadly across the tree of life, especially in geographic regions that are exceptionally diverse and under pressures from human activities such as in biodiversity hotspots. Here, using whole-genome sequencing data, we characterize genomic variation in populations of six Ethiopian Highlands forest bird species separated by a lowland biogeographic barrier, the Great Rift Valley (GRV). In all six species, populations on either side of the GRV exhibited significant but varying levels of genetic differentiation. Species with lower dispersal ability generally had higher levels of population differentiation. Divergence dating indicated asynchronous population differentiation histories, with at least three distinct diversification periods. We found that demographic histories—estimated for each individual—varied by both species and population but were consistent between individuals of the same species and sampling region. We found that genomic diversity varied by half an order of magnitude across species, and that this variation could largely be explained by the harmonic mean of effective population size over the past 200,000 years. Overall, we found that even in highly dispersive species like birds, the GRV acts as a substantial biogeographic barrier.