The Variable Antshrike (Thamnophilus caerulescens) is arguably the most polytypic thamnophilid, with males ranging from almost entirely jet black to nearly white. The four subspecies that occur in Bolivia are strikingly divergent in male plumage: T. c. aspersiventer (black with white-barred belly), T. c. connectens (black back and bib with white belly), T. c. dinellii (gray throat and back with rufous belly), and T. c. paraguayensis (light gray with white belly). To assess the genetic structure of those taxa in Bolivia, sequence variation at the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene was screened in 126 individuals collected across transects spanning the plumage and vocal variation in the four forms. A 95-km-wide cline in haplotype frequencies from T. c. aspersiventer to T. c. dinellii was centered in the Serrania Cochabamba across an ecotone from humid to dry Andean foothill habitats. Thamnophilus caerulescens connectens is not a valid taxon, instead representing an introgressed population near the dinellii tail of the T. c. aspersiventer-T. c. dinellii hybrid zone. Although direct contact between T. c. dinellii and T. c. paraguayensis remains undocumented, the mitochondrial data were consistent with introgression along a broad cline extending across most of southern Bolivia. Overall, the transitions in mitochondrial frequencies were remarkably concordant with clinal changes in vocalizations among those same populations (Isler et al. 2005). Both studies highlight the need for increased sampling, in both the geographic extent and number of individuals per population, to address adequately the potential for clinal variation between populations that are not isolated geographically. A more restricted sampling design in the present study might have led to the erroneous conclusion that T. c. aspersiventer, T. c. dinellii, and T. c. paraguayensis have reciprocally monphyletic mitochondrial lineages, making them full species according to some species concepts.
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