We explored variation in mitochondrial ND2 gene sequences from 171 stonechats (Saxicola torquata complex) collected from 27 Eurasian and 3 African localities. We found that two widespread neighboring Eurasian subspecies of Siberian stonechat, Saxicola maura maura and S. m. stejnegeri, although very similar in appearance, are not each other's closest relatives. Eastern Asian S. m. stejnegeri appears to have split from other Palearctic, African, and island stonechats well before differentiation occurred among the latter taxa. Our data indicate that European (S. t. rubicola), central Palearctic (S. m. maura) and eastern Palearctic (S. m. stejnegeri) are independently evolving, and could each warrant separate species status, as assumed earlier for S. rubicola, S. maura and S. torquata. However, we found three localities at which individuals from different major groups occurred. Thus, although these are likely phylogenetic species it is unclear whether they are biological species. There was little phylogeographic structure within the three major Palearctic clades, although samples from Spain might be showing incipient divergence. We maintain that the topology of a mtDNA gene tree is a valid means to discern taxonomic limits.
- Species limits