Rapid diversification of the Variable Seedeater superspecies complex despite widespread gene flow




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Ocampo Vargas, Diego
Winker, Kevin
Miller, Matthew J.
Sandoval Vargas, Luis Andrés

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Disentangling the evolutionary relationships of rapidly radiating clades is often challenging because of low genetic differentiation and potentially high levels of gene flow among diverging taxa. The genus Sporophila consists of small Neotropical birds that show, in general, relatively low genetic divergence, but particularly high speciation rates and pronounced variation in secondary sexual traits (e.g., plumage color), which can be important in generating premating reproductive isolation. In cases like these, the use of genome-wide sequence data can increase the resolution to uncover a clade’s evolutionary history. Here, we used a phylogenomic approach to study the evolutionary history and genetic structure of the Variable Seedeater superspecies complex, which includes S. corvina, S. intermedia, and S. americana. Using ∼25,000 genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), we confirmed that the Variable Seedeater superspecies complex is monophyletic. However, a phylogenetic reconstruction based on a mitochondrial marker (ND2) resulted in a discordant tree topology, particularly in the position of Wing-barred Seedeater S. americana, which might be due to a mitochondrial capture event. Our results suggest historical gene flow among lineages, particularly between species with conflicting topologies. Among the four phenotypically variable S. corvina subspecies, our structure analyses identified three main distinct genetic groups (K = 3), and that the entirely black subspecies, S. c. corvina, is derived from within a piedcolored clade. Further, we inferred widespread gene flow across the whole species’ distribution, including between subspecies. However, gene flow was about 100 times lower at the geographic boundaries of the entirely black and the pied subspecies, suggesting an important role for plumage divergence in limiting gene flow. Overall, our findings suggest that the early diversification of the Sporophila genus occurred rapidly despite historical gene flow between lineages and that divergence in plumage color possibly influences the extent of gene flow among taxa.


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