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Size is not known to vary, and color varies slightly, if at all. Meanley and Bond (45) contended that populations breeding in the Appalachian Mountains are browner (less green) above and whiter (less yellowish) below than populations breeding on the coastal plain, yet no such color difference was detected across a series of spring specimens from montane and coastal sites (G. R. Graves, personal communication), and both color “extremes” have been observed within populations breeding in coastal South Carolina (J. Cely, personal communication), implying differences are the result of individual variation. Modest genetic structure among populations (46) does not coincide with any level of phenotypic variation, and there is evidence of genetic mixing on overwintering grounds (47). Breeding habitat varies geographically: Appalachian birds tend to breed in foothill rhododendron–hemlock (Rhododendron–Tsuga) hardwood forest; many lowland birds breed in swampy bottomland forest with adequate cane or with vines and shrubs that provide comparable understory density (11); and many birds now breed in pine plantations (10).
No subspecies, in that L. s. alta Meanley and Bond, 1950, of the Appalachian Mountains generally is considered (e.g., 48) to be a junior synonym of nominate Limnothlypis swainsonii (Audubon, 1834).
The American wood-warblers (Parulidae) are a component in a broad and geologically recent radiation of passerines with 9 primaries that also includes the families Emberizidae, Cardinalidae, Thraupidae, and Icteridae (49). The monotypic genus Limnothlypis is among the core members of the Parulidae (50). The closest relative of this species is open to question: on the basis of morphology and ecology, Brewster (25) viewed Limnothlypis as a link between either Helmitheros and Oporornis or Helmitheros and Seiurus, but molecular phylogenies (50, 51) place Limnothlypis swainsonii sister to Protonotaria citrea, the Prothonotary Warbler, another species in a monotypic genus, and the monotypic Mniotilta (the Black-and-white Warbler), is sister to this species pair. Spector (52) described that the song system of Limnothlypis and Protonotaria as similar.