Diversification of Tanagers, a species rich bird group, from lowlands to montane regions in South America

The process of diversification since the late Tertiary was studied by linking together well-resolved phylogenies and species distributions for tanagers (Aves, Thraupini). Species richness patterns reveal very high densities of range-restricted species in the Andes, and to a lesser extent in the Atlantic forests of south-eastern Brazil, and moderate densities of widespread species in the tropical lowlands. Contemporary climate explains well the variation in species richness for the 25% most widespread species; for the remaining 75% of species with more restricted distributions, variation can only be explained well from topography and landscape complexity. Phylogenetically old species are mainly found along the Andes and along the Rio coast of Brazil. Most other areas outside the Andes probably had very moderate rates of later diversification. In contrast, the humid tropical Andes region was a centre of intensive speciation throughout the evolutionary history of the group, and species richness patterns here seem largely to be driven by the rate of speciation, with further diversification from the highlands into adjacent lowlands. The diversification process in montane areas may be related to high persistence of lineages in specific areas, something that may be related to how climatic changes are moderated by local topography.