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Title: Effects of assortative mate choice on the genomic and morphological structure of a hybrid zone between two bird subspecies

Phenotypic differentiation plays an important role in the formation and maintenance of reproductive barriers. In some cases, variation in a few key aspects of phenotype can promote and maintain divergence; hence, the identification of these traits and their associations with patterns of genomic divergence is crucial for understanding the patterns and processes of population differentiation. We studied hybridization between thealbaandpersonatasubspecies of the white wagtail (Motacilla alba), and quantified divergence and introgression of multiple morphological traits and 19,437SNPloci on a 3,000 km transect. Our goal was to identify traits that may contribute to reproductive barriers and to assess how variation in these traits corresponds to patterns of genome‐wide divergence. Variation in only one trait—head plumage patterning—was consistent with reproductive isolation. Transitions in head plumage were steep and occurred over otherwise morphologically and genetically homogeneous populations, whereas cline centres for other traits and genomic ancestry were displaced over 100 km from the head cline. Field observational data show that social pairs mated assortatively by head plumage, suggesting that these phenotypes are maintained by divergent mating preferences. In contrast, variation in all other traits and genetic markers could be explained by neutral diffusion, although weak ecological selection cannot be ruled out. Our results emphasize that assortative mating may maintain phenotypic differences independent of other processes shaping genome‐wide variation, consistent with other recent findings that raise questions about the relative importance of mate choice, ecological selection and selectively neutral processes for divergent evolution.

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Date Published:
Journal Name:
Molecular Ecology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 6430-6444
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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