Distribution in the Americas
Southern Bristle-Tyrant is endemic to the Atlantic Forest, where it is resident. Its original distribution was centered on southeastern Brazil, in the states of Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo south to Paraná, Santa Catarina and and northern Rio Grande do Sul; it also occurs in eastern Paraguay and in northeastern Argentina, in the province of Missiones (Hellmayr 1927, Pinto 1944, Kirwan et al. 2001, Tonetti 2015). This species is scarce or absent now from much of the northern portion of its range, however; see Historical changes.
In most of its range Southern Bristle-Tyrant is restricted to montane areas, at ca 800-1700 m, but at the southern limit of its distribution, such as in the northern part of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), in southeastern Paraguay, and in northeastern Argentina, it occurs down to 100 m.
The species prefers tropical and subtropical forest where rainfall is not too high; therefore it is not expected in regions with high rainfall, as in the Serra do Mar, near the coast. Nonetheless, a specimen reportedly was collected in Serra do Mar in 1899 (Ihering and Ihering 1907), where Southern Bristle-Tyrant no longer is reported, despite the presence of large stretches of habitat (Ribeiro et al. 2009) and the frequent presence of ornithologists and birders.
Distribution outside the Americas
Southern Bristle-Tyrant occurs only in South America.
Southern Bristle-Tyrant occupies the mid story of Atlantic Forest, where it also can be found at forest edges. This species prefers forests near rivers and streams when it is not associated with mixed species flocks (Tonetti and Pizo 2016; see also Silveira 1998, Bodrati and Cockle 2006, Bodrati et al. 2010, Lombardi et al. 2010). Although some authors state that Southern Bristle-Tyrant prefers areas of pristine vegetation (Silveira 2009), or, alternatively, that it may benefit from selective logging (Lowen et al. 1996), Tonetti and Pizo (2016) found that the occurrence of the species is most influenced by the presence of moving water rather than by vegetation structure.
In the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, a specimen was collected in Itatiaia National Park on 18 June 1922, at a locality known as Ponte do Maromba. Despite the large amount of remaining habitat, the species no longer is recorded in that region. In fact, the last confirmed record in Rio de Janeiro state occurred in 21 March 1988. In Espítito Santo state the species also is uncommon; currently it is known only in Caparaó National Park. In the state of São Paulo, where it formerly had a wide distribution, it has been recorded recently only in Serra da Cantareira (Willis and Oniki 1993), Cantareira State Park being the most important stronghold for the species (Tonetti 2015). In Minas Gerais state there are still several records of the species, even in small (e.g. 100 ha) Atlantic Forest patches. In the states cited above the species occur only in mountains with altitude ranging from 800 to 1,700 m.
For a complete compilation of species historical and present records, see Tonetti (2015).
There is no known fossil of the species.