Montane species distributions interrupted by valleys can lead to range fragmentation, differentiation and ultimately speciation. Paleoclimatic fluctuations may accentuate or reduce such diversification by temporally altering the extent of montane habitat and may affect species differentially. We examined how an entire montane bird community of the Western Ghats--a linear, coastal tropical mountain range--responds to topographic valleys that host different habitats. Using genetic data from 23 species (356 individuals) collected across nine locations, we examined if different species in the community reveal spatial concordance in population differentiation, and whether the timing of these divergences correlate with climatic events. Our results reveal a nested effect of valleys, with several species (10 of 23) demonstrating the oldest divergences associated with the widest and deepest valley in the mountain range, the Palghat Gap. Further, a subset of these 10 species revealed younger divergences across shallower, narrower valleys. We recovered discordant divergence times for all valley-affected montane birds, mostly in the Pleistocene, supporting the Pliestocene-pump hypotheses and highlighting the role of climatic fluctuations during this period in driving species evolution. A majority of species remain unaffected by valleys, perhaps owing to geneflow or extinction-recolonization dynamics. Studying almost the entire community allowed us to uncover a range of species' responses, including some generalizable and other unpredicted patterns.
Keywords: India; Palghat Gap; Shenkottah Gap; Shola; phylogenetic; sky island.
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.