Divergent selection and drift shape the genomes of two avian sister species spanning a saline-freshwater ecotone.

Academic Article


  • The role of species divergence due to ecologically based divergent selection-or ecological speciation-in generating and maintaining biodiversity is a central question in evolutionary biology. Comparison of the genomes of phylogenetically related taxa spanning a selective habitat gradient enables discovery of divergent signatures of selection and thereby provides valuable insight into the role of divergent ecological selection in speciation. Tidal marsh ecosystems provide tractable opportunities for studying organisms' adaptations to selective pressures that underlie ecological divergence. Sharp environmental gradients across the saline-freshwater ecotone within tidal marshes present extreme adaptive challenges to terrestrial vertebrates. Here, we sequence 20 whole genomes of two avian sister species endemic to tidal marshes-the saltmarsh sparrow (Ammospiza caudacutus) and Nelson's sparrow (A. nelsoni)-to evaluate the influence of selective and demographic processes in shaping genome-wide patterns of divergence. Genome-wide divergence between these two recently diverged sister species was notably high (genome-wide F ST = 0.32). Against a background of high genome-wide divergence, regions of elevated divergence were widespread throughout the genome, as opposed to focused within islands of differentiation. These patterns may be the result of genetic drift resulting from past tidal march colonization events in conjunction with divergent selection to different environments. We identified several candidate genes that exhibited elevated divergence between saltmarsh and Nelson's sparrows, including genes linked to osmotic regulation, circadian rhythm, and plumage melanism-all putative candidates linked to adaptation to tidal marsh environments. These findings provide new insights into the roles of divergent selection and genetic drift in generating and maintaining biodiversity.
  • Authors

  • Walsh, Jennifer
  • Clucas, Gemma V
  • MacManes, Matthew
  • Thomas, W. Kelley
  • Kovach, Adrienne
  • Publication Date

  • December 2019
  • Published In


  • Ammospiza caudacutus
  • Ammospzia nelsoni
  • adaptation
  • demography
  • ecological divergence
  • ecological speciation
  • genomics
  • tidal marshes
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 13477
  • End Page

  • 13494
  • Volume

  • 9
  • Issue

  • 23