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Population history of Berthelot's pipit: colonization, gene flow and morphological divergence in Macaronesia


Juan Carlos Illera, Fax: +44 1603592250. E-mail:


The fauna of oceanic islands provide exceptional models with which to examine patterns of dispersal, isolation and diversification, from incipient speciation to species level radiations. Here, we investigate recent differentiation and microevolutionary change in Berthelot's pipit (Anthus berthelotii), an endemic bird species inhabiting three Atlantic archipelagos. Mitochondrial DNA sequence data and microsatellite markers were used to deduce probable colonization pathway, genetic differentiation, and gene flow among the 12 island populations. Phenotypic differentiation was investigated based on eight biologically important morphological traits. We found little mitochondrial DNA variability, with only one and four haplotypes for the control region and cytochrome b, respectively. However, microsatellite data indicated moderate population differentiation (FST = 0.069) between the three archipelagos that were identified as genetically distinct units with limited gene flow. Both results, combined with the estimated time of divergence (2.5 millions years ago) from the Anthus campestris (the sister species), suggest that this species has only recently dispersed throughout these islands. The genetic relationships, patterns of allelic richness and exclusive alleles among populations suggest the species originally colonized the Canary Islands and only later spread from there to the Madeiran archipelago and Selvagen Islands. Differentiation has also occurred within archipelagos, although to a lesser degree. Gene flow was observed more among the eastern and central islands of the Canaries than between these and the western islands or the Madeiran Islands. Morphological differences were also more important between than within archipelagos. Concordance between morphological and genetic differentiation provided ambiguous results suggesting that genetic drift alone was not sufficient to explain phenotypic differentiation. The observed genetic and morphological differences may therefore be the result of differing patterns of selection pressures between populations, with Berthelot's pipit undergoing a process of incipient differentiation.