Historical diversification of migration patterns in a passerine bird

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Migratory strategies of birds require complex orientation mechanisms, morphological adaptations, and life-history adjustments. From an evolutionary perspective, it is important to know how fast this complex combination of traits can evolve. We analyzed mitochondrial control-region DNA sequences in 241 blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) from 12 populations with different migratory behaviors. The sample included sedentary populations in Europe and Atlantic archipelagos and migratory populations with different distances of migration, from regional to intercontinental migrations, and different heading directions (due to a migratory divide in central Europe). There was no genetic structure between migratory and sedentary populations, or among populations from different biogeographic areas (Atlantic islands, the Iberian Peninsula, or the continent), however we found evidence of a genetic structure when comparing populations located on either side of the migratory divide. These findings support an independent evolution of highly divergent migratory strategies in blackcaps, occurring after a postglacial colonization of the continent along western and eastern routes. Accordingly, mismatch-distribution analyses suggested an expansion of blackcaps from a very small population size, and time estimates dated such an expansion during the last postglacial period. However, the populations in Gibraltar, located in a putative Mediterranean refuge, appeared to be independent of these processes, showing evidence of restricted gene flow with other populations and demonstrating insignificant historical changes in effective population size. Our results show that the interruption of gene flow between migratory and sedentary populations is not necessary for the maintenance of such a polymorphism, and that even the most divergent migratory strategies of a bird species are susceptible to evolution in response to historical environmental changes.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1819-1832
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Publication categoryResearch