Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Single origin of a pan-Pacific bird group and upstream colonization of Australasia


Oceanic islands have long served as natural laboratories for understanding the diversification of life1,2,3,4. In particular, the many thousands of islands spanning the tropical Pacific support an unparalleled array of terrestrial communities whose patterns of diversity contributed fundamental insights to the development of classical speciation and biogeographic theory4,5,6,7,8. Much of this work is founded on an assumption derived from traditional taxonomic approaches, namely that faunas on these widely separated archipelagos stem from a simple one-way, downstream flow of colonists from continents to islands2,4. Here we show, with the use of molecular phylogenetic data from one of the original bird families used to justify this assumption, that a diverse array of endemic island genera and species are the product of a single radiation that diversified across all major Pacific archipelagos in a non-stepping-stone fashion, and recently recolonized continental areas. The geographic scope and lineage-specific approach of this study reveal evolutionary patterns long obscured by traditional taxonomic surveys and indicate that widely dispersed archipelagos can be sources of biological diversity.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Maximum-likelihood phylogeny of Pacific monarchs based on ND2 and myoglobin intron-2 data.
Figure 2: Evolution of Pacific monarchs (Fig. 1, clade A) in space, time and form.


  1. Wallace, A. R. On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 26(2), 184–196 (1855)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Mayr, E. Systematics and the Origin of Species (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1942)

    Google Scholar 

  3. Lack, D. Darwin's Finches (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1947)

    Google Scholar 

  4. MacArthur, R. H. & Wilson, E. O. The Theory of Island Biogeography (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1967)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Diamond, J. M. Colonization of exploded volcanic islands by birds: the supertramp strategy. Science 184, 803–806 (1974)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Wilson, E. O. The nature of the taxon cycle in a tropical ant fauna. Evolution 13, 122–144 (1961)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Diamond, J. Continental and insular speciation in Pacific island birds. Syst. Zool. 26, 263–268 (1977)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Mayr, E. & Diamond, J. M. The Birds of Northern Melanesia: Speciation, Ecology and Biogeography (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 2001)

    Google Scholar 

  9. Gillespie, R. G. Biogeography of spiders on remote oceanic islands of the Pacific: archipelagoes as stepping stones? J. Biogeogr. 29, 655–662 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Wright, S. D., Yong, C. G., Dawson, J. W., Whittaker, D. J. & Gardner, R. C. Riding the ice age El Niño? Pacific biogeography and evolution of Metrosideros subg. Metrosideros (Myrtaceae) inferred from nuclear ribosomal DNA. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97, 4118–4123 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Mayr, E. The origin and the history of the bird fauna of Polynesia. Proc. VI Pac. Sci. Cong. 4, 197–216 (1939)

    Google Scholar 

  12. Filardi, C. E. & Smith, C. E. Molecular phylogenetics of monarch flycatchers (genus Monarcha) with emphasis on Solomon endemics. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. published online, 11 March 2005 (doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.02.007)

  13. Drovetski, S. V. et al. Complex biogeographic history of a Holarctic passerine. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 271, 545–551 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Grant, P. R. Reconstructing the evolution of birds on islands: 100 years of research. Oikos 92, 385–403 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hall, R. in Biogeography and the Geological Evolution of SE Asia (eds Hall, R. & Holloway, J. D.) 99–131 (Backhuys, Leiden, 1998)

    Google Scholar 

  16. Steadman, D. W. Prehistoric extinctions of Pacific island birds; biodiversity meets zooarchaeology. Science 267, 1123–1131 (1995)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Olson, S. L. Lamprolia as part of a South Pacific radiation of monarchine flycatchers. Notornis 27, 7–10 (1980)

    Google Scholar 

  18. Tarr, C. L. & Fleischer, R. C. Mitochondrial DNA variation and evolutionary relationships in the Amakihi complex. Auk 110, 825–831 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Slikas, B., Jones, I. B., Derrickson, S. R. & Fleischer, R. C. Phylogenetic relationships of Micronesian white-eyes based on mitochondrial sequence data. Auk 117, 355–365 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Cibois, A., Thibault, J. C. & Pasquet, E. Biogeography of eastern Polynesian monarchs (Pomarea): an endemic genus close to extinction. Condor 106, 837–851 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Spironello, M. & Brooks, D. R. Dispersal and diversification: macroevolutionary implications of the MacArthur–Wilson model, illustrated by Simulium (Inseliellum) Rubstov (Diptera: Simuliidae). J. Biogeogr. 30, 1563–1573 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Ricklefs, R. E. & Bermingham, E. Nonequilibrium diversity dynamics of the Lesser Antillean avifauna. Science 294, 1522–1524 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ward, S. A. & Thornton, I. W. B. Chance and determinism in the development of isolated communities. Global Ecol. Biogeogr. 9, 7–18 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Lomolino, M. V. Mammalian community structure on islands: immigration, extinction, and interactive effects. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 28, 1–21 (1986)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Steadman, D. W. Biogeography of Tongan birds before and after human impact. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 90, 818–822 (1993)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Fjeldså, J. The origin of species in Melanesia. Trends Ecol. Evol. 17, 292 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Farris, J. S., Kallersjo, M., Kluge, A. G. & Bult, C. Constructing a significance test for incongruence. Syst. Biol. 44, 570–572 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Swofford, D. L. PAUP*. Phylogenetic Analysis Using Parsimony (*and Other Methods) (Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts, 2002)

    Google Scholar 

  29. Posada, D. & Crandall, K. A. Modeltest: testing the model of DNA substitution. Bioinformatics 14, 817–818 (1998)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Huelsenbeck, J. P. & Ronquist, F. MRBAYES: Bayesian inference of phylogenetic trees. Bioinformatics 17, 754–755 (2001)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This paper is dedicated to the memory of Ernst Mayr and his lifelong contribution to biology. We thank G. Barrowclough, J. Cracraft, R. Ricklefs, C. E. Smith and D. Steadman for comments. This work was supported in part by the F. M. Chapman Memorial Fund and by the L. C. and L. J. Sanford Funds of the American Museum of Natural History. The research was conducted in the Ambrose Monell Molecular Laboratory and is a contribution of the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematic Studies, a joint initiative of the New York Botanical Gardens and the American Museum of Natural History.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher E. Filardi.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Nucleotide sequences newly determined here have been deposited in GenBank under the accession numbers DQ084072–DQ084119. Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file includes Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Tables 1–3 and Supplementary Figure Legends. (DOC 115 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

Maximum likelihood topology recovered using combined nuclear and mtDNA data, and ML bootstrap and Bayesian posterior probability values for all nodes in the tree. (PDF 1532 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

This figure shows trees for each of the two genes analysed separately and also includes bootstrap and posterior probability information. (PDF 1676 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Filardi, C., Moyle, R. Single origin of a pan-Pacific bird group and upstream colonization of Australasia. Nature 438, 216–219 (2005).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing