Pronounced Fixation, Strong Population Differentiation and Complex Population History in the Canary Islands Blue Tit Subspecies Complex

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Abstract

Evolutionary molecular studies of island radiations may lead to insights in the role of vicariance, founder events, population size and drift in the processes of population differentiation. We evaluate the degree of population genetic differentiation and fixation of the Canary Islands blue tit subspecies complex using microsatellite markers and aim to get insights in the population history using coalescence based methods. The Canary Island populations were strongly genetically differentiated and had reduced diversity with pronounced fixation including many private alleles. In population structure models, the relationship between the central island populations (La Gomera, Tenerife and Gran Canaria) and El Hierro was difficult to disentangle whereas the two European populations showed consistent clustering, the two eastern islands (Fuerteventura and Lanzarote) and Morocco weak clustering, and La Palma a consistent unique lineage. Coalescence based models suggested that the European mainland forms an outgroup to the Afrocanarian population, a split between the western island group (La Palma and El Hierro) and the central island group, and recent splits between the three central islands, and between the two eastern islands and Morocco, respectively. It is clear that strong genetic drift and low level of concurrent gene flow among populations have shaped complex allelic patterns of fixation and skewed frequencies over the archipelago. However, understanding the population history remains challenging; in particular, the pattern of extreme divergence with low genetic diversity and yet unique genetic material in the Canary Island system requires an explanation. A potential scenario is population contractions of a historically large and genetically variable Afrocanarian population, with vicariance and drift following in the wake. The suggestion from sequence-based analyses of a Pleistocene extinction of a substantial part of North Africa and a Pleistocene/Holocene eastward re-colonisation of western North Africa from the Canaries remains possible.

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  • Biological Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere90186
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes