The role of physical barriers in the location of avian suture zones in the Guiana Shield, northern Amazonia

Am Nat. 2012 Apr;179(4):E115-32. doi: 10.1086/664627. Epub 2012 Mar 1.


Suture zones represent natural forums in which to examine the role of geography and ecology in the speciation process. Here, we conduct a comparative analysis designed to investigate the location of avian phylogeographic breaks and contact zones in the Guiana Shield, northern Amazonia. We use distributional and genetic data from 78 pairs of avian taxa to address whether phylogeographic breaks and contact zones are associated with contemporary landscape features. Using spatially explicit statistical models, we found that phylogeographic breaks and contact zones are not randomly distributed throughout the landscape. In general, geographic breaks cluster along physical barriers (rivers, nonforested habitats, and small mountain ranges), whereas contact zones aggregate where these barriers either break down or are easier to overcome, such as around rivers' headwaters. Our results indicate that although major Amazonian rivers are often key determinants of taxon boundaries, the "riverine barrier effect" is a synergistic consequence of the wide lower reaches of some rivers, coupled with nonriverine landscape features at the headwaters. Our data suggest that ancestral refugia are not necessary to explain current distribution patterns and that pairs of codistributed taxa do not seem to be the result of simultaneous diversification processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / classification
  • Birds / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Models, Genetic*
  • NADH Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Phylogeography
  • Rivers
  • South America
  • Trees


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • NADH Dehydrogenase