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Extreme genetic structure in a social bird species despite high dispersal capacity

AuthorsMorinha, Francisco; Dávila, José A. ; Bastos, Estela; Cabral, Joao A.; Frías, Óscar; González, José L.; Travassos, Paulo; Carvalho, Diogo; Milá, Borja ; Blanco, Guillermo
KeywordsBreeding recruitment
Dispersal movements
Genetic differentiation
Social behaviour
Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Issue DateMay-2017
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
CitationMolecular Ecology 26(10): 2812-2825 (2017)
AbstractSocial barriers have been shown to reduce gene flow and contribute to genetic structure among populations in species with high cognitive capacity and complex societies, such as cetaceans, apes and humans. In birds, high dispersal capacity is thought to prevent population divergence unless major geographical or habitat barriers induce isolation patterns by dispersal, colonization or adaptation limitation. We report that Iberian populations of the red-billed chough, a social, gregarious corvid with high dispersal capacity, show a striking degree of genetic structure composed of at least 15 distinct genetic units. Monitoring of marked individuals over 30 years revealed that long-distance movements over hundreds of kilometres are common, yet recruitment into breeding populations is infrequent and highly philopatric. Genetic differentiation is weakly related to geographical distance, and habitat types used are overall qualitatively similar among regions and regularly shared by individuals of different populations, so that genetic structure is unlikely to be due solely to isolation by distance or isolation by adaptation. Moreover, most population nuclei showed relatively high levels of genetic diversity, suggesting a limited role for genetic drift in significantly differentiating populations. We propose that social mechanisms may underlie this unprecedented level of genetic structure in birds through a pattern of isolation by social barriers not yet described, which may have driven this remarkable population divergence in the absence of geographical and environmental barriers.
Identifiersdoi: 10.1111/mec.14069
issn: 1365-294X
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