Geographic patterns of mtDNA and Z-linked sequence variation in the Common Chiffchaff and the ‘chiffchaff complex’

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The Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita is an abundant, polytypic Palearctic bird. Validity of some of its subspecies is controversial and birds from some parts of the species range remain unclassified taxonomically. The relationships among populations from different geographic areas have not been sufficiently explored with molecular data. In this study we analyzed the relationships among the four species in the ‘chiffchaff complex’ (Common Chiffchaff, Iberian Chiffchaff P. ibericus, Canary Islands Chiffchaff P. canariensis and Mountain Chiffchaff P. sindianus), and the patterns of intraspecific geographic variation in the mtDNA ND2 gene and intron 9 of the Z-linked aconitase gene (ACO1I9) across the Common Chiffchaff range, including a recently discovered population breeding on Mt. Hermon (Anti-Lebanon mountains). Our data supported the monophyly of the chiffchaff complex and its current systematics at the species level. Within the Common Chiffchaff, the Siberian race P. c. tristis was the most differentiated subspecies and may represent a separate or incipient species. Other Common Chiffchaff subspecies also were differentiated in their mtDNA, however, lineages of neighboring subspecies formed wide zones of introgression. The Mt. Hermon population was of mixed genetic origin but contained some birds with novel unique lineage that could not be assigned to known subspecies. All Common Chiffchaff lineages diverged at the end of the Ionian stage of Pleistocene. Lineage sorting of ACO1I9 alleles was not as complete as that of mtDNA. Chiffchaff species were mostly distinct at ACO1I9, except the Common and Canary Islands Chiffchaffs that shared multiple alleles. An AMOVA identified geographic structure in Common Chiffchaff ACO1I9 variation that was broadly consistent with that of mtDNA ND2 gene. The genetic and other data suggest the chiffchaff complex to be a group of evolutionarily young taxa that represent a paradigm of ‘species evolution in action’ from intergrading subspecies through to apparently complete biological speciation.


  • Marko Raković
  • Júlio M. Neto
  • Ricardo J. Lopes
  • Evgeniy A. Koblik
  • Igor V. Fadeev
  • Yuriy V. Lohman
  • Sargis A. Aghayan
  • Giovanni Boano
  • Marco Pavia
  • Yoav Perlman
  • Yosef Kiat
  • Amir Ben Dov
  • J. Martin Collinson
  • Gary Voelker
  • Sergei V. Drovetski
External organisations
  • University of Porto
  • Lomonosov Moscow State University
  • University of Turin
  • Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • University of Aberdeen
  • Texas A and M University
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Natural History Museum of Belgrade
  • State Darwin Museum
  • No affiliation available (private)
  • Yerevan State University
  • Civic Museum of Natural History in Carmagnola
  • Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0210268
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jan 1
Publication categoryResearch