It has been suggested that the presence of sister species in small circumscribed areas, such as isolated lakes or islands, might imply that these species originated sympatrically. To investigate this possibility in birds, we searched for endemic, congeneric species on isolated islands in the ocean. Among 46 islands and small archipelagos chosen because they contain at least one species of endemic land bird, we identified seven pairs of endemic congeners (excluding flightless rails). Of these seven, only four pairs are potentially sister species and thus possible candidates for sympatric speciation. However, three of these four pairs have always been considered the results of double invasion from a mainland source (in two of these cases, molecular-phylogenetic work has either confirmed a double invasion or is ambiguous). The one remaining pair may have speciated allopatrically on a small archipelago. Additional phylogenetic studies are required to understand these cases, and our results should also be considered in light of the large number of island-bird extinctions in historic time. We conclude that, at present, there is little evidence for sympatric speciation in island birds.
Editor: S. Edwards