Convergent evolution of 'creepers' in the Hawaiian honeycreeper radiation

Dawn M. Reding, Jeffrey T. Foster, Helen F. James, H. Douglas Pratt, Robert C. Fleischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Natural selection plays a fundamental role in the ecological theory of adaptive radiation. A prediction of this theory is the convergent evolution of traits in lineages experiencing similar environments. The Hawaiian honeycreepers are a spectacular example of adaptive radiation and may demonstrate convergence, but uncertainty about phylogenetic relationships within the group has made it difficult to assess such evolutionary patterns. We examine the phylogenetic relationships of the Hawaii creeper (Oreomystis mana), a bird that in a suite of morphological, ecological and behavioural traits closely resembles the Kauai creeper (Oreomystis bairdi), but whose mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and osteology suggest a relationship with the amakihis (Hemignathus in part) and akepas (Loxops). We analysed nuclear DNA sequence data from 11 relevant honeycreeper taxa and one outgroup to test whether the character contradiction results from historical hybridization and mtDNA introgression, or convergent evolution. We found no evidence of past hybridization, a phenomenon that remains undocumented in Hawaiian honeycreepers, and confirmed mtDNA and osteological evidence that the Hawaii creeper is most closely related to the amakihis and akepas. Thus, the morphological, ecological and behavioural similarities between the evolutionarily distant Hawaii and Kauai creepers represent an extreme example of convergent evolution and demonstrate how natural selection can lead to repeatable evolutionary outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-224
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 23 2009


  • Adaptive radiation
  • Convergent evolution
  • Ecological convergence
  • Hawaiian honeycreepers
  • Hybridization
  • Mitochondrial DNA introgression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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