Evidence of taxon cycles in an Indo-Pacific passerine bird radiation (Aves: Pachycephala)

Many insular taxa possess extraordinary abilities to disperse but may differ in their abilities to diversify and compete. While some taxa are widespread across archipelagos, others have disjunct (relictual) populations. These types of taxa, exemplified in the literature by selections of unrelated taxa, have been interpreted as representing a continuum of expansions and contractions (i.e. taxon cycles). Here, we use molecular data of 35 out of 40 species of the avian genus Pachycephala (including 54 out of 66 taxa in Pachycephala pectoralis (sensu lato), to assess the spatio-temporal evolution of the group. We also include data on species distributions, morphology, habitat and elevational ranges to test a number of predictions associated with the taxon-cycle hypothesis. We demonstrate that relictual species persist on the largest and highest islands across the Indo-Pacific, whereas recent archipelago expansions resulted in colonization of all islands in a region. For co-occurring island taxa, the earliest colonists generally inhabit the interior and highest parts of an island, with little spatial overlap with later colonists. Collectively, our data support the idea that taxa continuously pass through phases of expansions and contractions (i.e. taxon cycles).