Masked gulls are believed, on the basis of morphological and recent molecular work, to be a monophyletic group within the Laridae, but relationships of species within the group are not well resolved. We used sequence data from four mitochondrial DNA genes (ND2, ND5, ATPase6, and ATPase 8) totaling >3,600 base pairs to clarify relationships among the species and test competing hypotheses about their origin and biogeography. Monophyly of the masked gulls was confirmed. We also found strong support for a clade including all Southern Hemisphere masked gulls as well as a lone Northern Hemisphere representative, the Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus). The Australasian taxa form a well-supported clade, in which the Black-billed Gull (L. bulleri) is sister to the Red-billed Gull (L. novaehollandiae scopulinus) of New Zealand and the Australian Silver Gull (L. n. novaehollandiae). Another well-supported clade includes the Black-headed Gull as sister to the South African Hartlaub's Gull (L. hartlaubii) and the Gray-hooded Gull (L. cirrocephalus) of Africa and South America. The strongly supported position of L. ridibundus within the “southern clade” suggests that it originated from a Southern Hemisphere ancestor and recently dispersed into the Northern Hemisphere. Estimates of divergence times using rate-smoothing methods are consistent with those from previous molecular work and suggest that (1) masked gulls diverged from other gulls <2 mya and (2) much of the radiation in the group occurred in the last 600,000 years.
Preuve moléculaire de la radiation récente chez les mouettes “masquées” de l'hémisphère sud