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Rapid morphological divergence of introduced Red-whiskered Bulbuls Pycnonotus jocosus in contrasting environments


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New environmental conditions may impact on behaviour and morphology, and consequently affect population dynamics. Rapid response to new conditions is likely to be a key factor in species introduction success. The Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus is an Asian species which, following accidental introduction only 30 years ago, has colonized the two climatically and ecologically contrasting sides of the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. We assessed the degree of morphological divergence of mature birds in 11 non-seasonal and three seasonal characters, in windward and leeward sites. Our study showed (1) that sexual dimorphism existed, (2) that when sexual dimorphism is controlled, nine non-seasonal characters differed significantly between windward and leeward sites, (3) that these non-seasonal characters define groups of geographically proximal sites, especially in males, and (4) that classification according to the most indicative character, the bill, also clearly separated birds from windward and leeward sites. These results indicate very rapid morphological divergence, particularly in bill size, in an introduced bird species in fewer than ten generations. We suggest that differences in diet could partly explain this variability.