Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 146, Issue 2, pp 127–136 | Cite as

Differentiation and phylogeny of the olivaceous warbler Hippolais pallida species complex

  • Ulf OttossonEmail author
  • Staffan Bensch
  • Lars Svensson
  • Jonas Waldenström
Original Article


The pattern of phenotypic and molecular variation within the polytypic olivaceous warbler H. pallida was examined. This species is distributed in the southern parts of the western Palaearctic, central Asia and in the arid parts of northern Africa, and also in parts of the sub-Saharan Sahel zone. Based on morphology, five subspecies, at times assigned to three groups, have been identified. By comparing morphological, behavioural, vocal and molecular variation, we investigated the phenotypic and phylogenetic relationships within the Hippolais pallida group. The morphological and genetic data of the present study support the view of splitting the olivaceous warbler into a western (former subspecies opaca) and an eastern form (former subspecies elaeica, pallida, reiseri and laeneni). Opaca is consistently and significantly larger than the other taxa in all size measurements, even if it does share morphological properties with elaeica in characters associated with migration. The song of the polytypic pallida differs clearly from that of opaca, and is remarkably consistent within its wide range which comprises four subspecies. The molecular analysis, and the resulting phylogenetic pattern, clearly separated opaca on a single branch distant from the other subspecies. The eastern form consists of two non-overlapping haplotype groups: elaeica with relatively diverse mtDNA variation, and the three African subspecies pallida, reiseri and laeneni, which all share the same or closely related mtDNA haplotypes. It remains open whether the African taxa should be regarded as three valid subspecies of the Eastern olivaceous warbler, or if they are better treated as a single African subspecies.


Hippolais pallida Morphology Phylogeny Sylviidae Taxonomy 



The Nigerian part of the project was funded by the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation, the Carl Trygger Foundations and Ottenby Bird Observatory (Sweden), Vogelwarte Helgoland (Germany), and the Wetland Trust (UK). We received extensive logistic support in Nigeria from Mr. A.P. Leventis and from the Lake Chad Research Institute. We thank Mr. Philip Hall for his invaluable organisational help, and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation. Jared Wilson kindly provided recordings of laeneni made close to the ringing site in Malamfatori. The late Michael King, who ran a program funded by the Wetland Trust (UK), kindly provided the data from The Gambia. Christian Hjort contributed valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Much of the fieldwork in Kazakhstan and Morocco undertaken by LS was done in close cooperation with Andrew Lassey and Mike Pearson, and they are thanked for much practical help and inspiring discussions. Others who helped were Edward Gavrilov, Andrew Grieve and D.I.M. Wallace. While in Bulgaria, valuable help was received by Svetla Dalakchieva, Ola Jörnstedt, Boris Nikolov and Konstantin Popov. In Egypt, L.S. was helped by Mindy Baha El Din and Wed Ibrahim. In Tunisia, L.S. was helped by Lena Rahoult, Göran Ahlgren and others. For much assistance and help in connection with research in museum collections, L.S. thanks the curators and staffs at the natural history museums in Almaty, Copenhagen, New York, Paris, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Tring. A special thank to Claire Voisin and the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris for providing tissue of reiseri for the DNA analysis. This is contribution no. 195 from Ottenby Bird Observatory.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulf Ottosson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    Email author
  • Staffan Bensch
    • 2
  • Lars Svensson
    • 3
  • Jonas Waldenström
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Ottenby Bird ObservatoryDegerhamnSweden
  2. 2.Department of Animal EcologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.StockholmSweden
  4. 4.KehlenLuxembourg

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