Mitochondrial phylogeny within the Yellow Chat (Epthianura crocea) does not support subspecific designation of endangered Alligator Rivers population

Robin Leppitt, Alea Rose, Wayne A. Houston, Peter M. Kyne, Sam C. Banks, John C.Z. Woinarski, Stephen T. Garnett

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    Abstract

    The delineation of subspecies is important in the evaluation and protection of biodiversity. Subspecies delineation is hampered by inconsistently applied criteria and a lack of agreement and shifting standards on how a subspecies should be defined. The Australian endemic Yellow Chat (Epthianura crocea) is split into three subspecies (E. c. crocea, E. c. tunneyi, and E. c. macgregori) based on minor plumage differences and geographical isolation. Both E. c. tunneyi (Endangered) and E. c. macgregori (Critically Endangered) are recognized under Australian legislation as threatened and are the subject of significant conservation effort. We used mitochondrial DNA to evaluate the phylogeny of the Yellow Chat and determine how much genetic variation is present in each of the three subspecies. We found no significant difference in the cytochrome b sequences (833 base pairs) of E. c. crocea and E. c. tunneyi, but approximately 0.70% or 5.83 bp difference between E. c macgregori and both E. c. crocea and E. c. tunneyi. This analysis supports the delineation of E. c. macgregori as a valid subspecies but does not support separation of E. c. crocea from E. c. tunneyi. We also found very low levels of genetic variation within the Yellow Chat, suggesting it may be vulnerable to environmental change. Our results cast doubt upon the geographic isolation of E. c. crocea from E. c. tunneyi, but more advanced genetic sequencing and a robust comparison of plumage are needed to fully resolve taxonomy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere9114
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalEcology and Evolution
    Volume12
    Issue number7
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

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