Hybrid zone dynamics, assortative mating, and migratory programmes in a willow warbler migratory divide

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


In this thesis I will compare and contrast the two willow warbler subspecies (Phylloscopus trochilus trochilus and P. t. acredula) with differing migratory phenotypes (or "migratype") in the context of their migratory divide and hybrid zone in central Sweden. Their migratory programs differ in the direction and distance traveled during migration. The "northern" willow warblers migrate south-southeast through the Balkan Peninsula to winter in eastern Africa. The "southern" willow warbler migrates southwest through the Iberian Peninsula to winter in western Africa. In this thesis I will also explore the consequences of hybridization for these two very closely related subspecies where they meet in central Sweden. In the first paper I investigate the role of population abundance in determining the location of the hybrid zone. Specifically, is there a region of low abundance associated with the hybrid zone? Further, is the hybrid zone located on an environmental gradient which might suggest that breeding ground environmental conditions are responsible for the lower abundance? This lower abundance may reflect the unsuitability of habitats along the environmental gradient for either parental or hybrid offspring. In my second paper, I ask if there are population specific differences in their wintering moult ecology that can be elucidated from diet derived stable isotope patterns in their winter moulted primary flight feathers? The third paper addresses the important question, does assortative mating lead to reproductive isolation or do these very similar subspecies hybridize and produce offspring? In my fourth paper, I ask does local adaptation to environmental conditions, such as temperature extremes and the short growing season, in mountain populations of willow warblers explain the apparent distribution of the “northern-allele” for the AFLP derived genetic marker WW1? Finally, in the fifth paper, I conduct a detailed analysis of phenotypic traits at 50 sites across the hybrid zone, including 35 sites visited more than once. Here I ask, does lower abundances in the west of the hybrid zone predict the zone to be wider in the west than in the east? Further, using data from repeated visits to sites across the zone, we predict low repeatabilities for migratory associated traits that would suggest that high annual turn-over in migratypes occupying the zone. For future efforts to understand hybrid zone dynamics, it will be essential to develop genetic markers that allow one to separate each parental migratypes, hybrids, and back-crosses. Once genetic markers allow the identification of hybrid offspring, orientation experiments should be conducted to elucidate migratory directional preferences that would support our hypothesis that hybrids take an intermediate migratory direction to their parental migratypes. This intermediate direction could be a significant cost to hybrid fitness, as this route would require they cross the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Desert at their widest points.


  • Keith Larson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • migratory divide, phenotype, willow warbler, hybrid zone, tension zone, Phylloscopus trochilus, migratype, assortative mating, migration
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2012 Oct 4
  • Department of Biology, Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-7473-379-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2012-10-04 Time: 09:30 Place: Blue Hall, Ecology House, Sölvegatan 37, 22362 Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Schaefer, Martin Title: [unknown] Affiliation: University Freiburg, Biology --- The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Animal Ecology (Closed 2011) (011012001)

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