Biogeographical history of cuckoo-shrikes (Aves: Passeriformes): transoceanic colonization of Africa from Australo-Papua

Aim: Cuckoo-shrikes and allies (Campephagidae) form a radiation of birds widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific and Africa. Recent studies on the group have been hampered by poor taxon sampling, causing inferences about systematics and biogeography to be rather speculative. With improved taxon sampling and analyses within an explicit spatiotemporal framework, we elucidate biogeographical patterns of dispersal and diversification within this diverse clade of passerine birds. Location: Africa, Asia, Australo-Papua, the Pacific, the Philippines and Wallacea. Methods We use model-based phylogenetic methods (MrBayes and garli) to construct a phylogenetic hypothesis of the core Campephagidae (Campephagidae with the exclusion of Pericrocotus). The phylogeny is used to assess the biogeographical history of the group with a newly developed Bayesian approach to dispersal–vicariance analysis (Bayes-diva). We also made use of a partitioned beast analysis, with several calibration points taken from island ages, passerine mitochondrial substitution rates and secondary calibration points for passerine birds, to assess the timing of diversification and dispersal. Results: We present a robust molecular phylogeny that includes all genera and 84% of the species within the core Campephagidae. Furthermore, we estimate divergence dates and ancestral area relationships. We demonstrate that Campephagidae originated in Australo-Papua with a single lineage (Pericrocotus) dispersing to Asia early. Later, there was further extensive transoceanic dispersal from Australo-Papua to Africa involving lineages within the core Campephagidae radiation. Main conclusions: The phylogenetic relationships, along with the results of the ancestral area analysis and the timing of dispersal events, support a transoceanic dispersal scenario from Australo-Papua to Africa by the core Campephagidae. The sister group to core Campephagidae, Pericrocotus, dispersed to mainland Asia in the late Oligocene. Asia remained uncolonized by the core Campephagidae until the Pliocene. Transoceanic dispersal is by no means an unknown phenomenon, but our results represent a convincing case of colonization over a significant water gap of thousands of kilometres from Australo-Papua to Africa.