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RAPID SYMPATRY EXPLAINS GREATER COLOR PATTERN DIVERGENCE IN HIGH LATITUDE BIRDS

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Abstract

Latitudinal variation in patterns of evolution has fascinated biologists for over a century, but our understanding of latitudinal differences in evolutionary processes—such as selection and drift—remains limited. Here, we test for, and find, accelerated evolution of color patterns in bird taxa that breed at higher latitudes compared with those breeding in the tropics, analyzing data from seven diverse avian families. Most important, we show that the extent of overlap of species’ breeding ranges (degree of sympatry) explains the elevated rate of color pattern evolution at higher latitudes. We suggest that the dynamic shifts in breeding ranges that accompanied climatic changes during the last 3 million years (Milankovitch Oscillations) resulted in more rapid and more frequent secondary contact at high latitudes. We argue that sympatry among diverging clades causes greater divergence of color traits in birds at higher latitudes through sexual, social, or ecological character displacement that accelerate rates of evolution, and through the selective elimination of weakly differentiated lineages that hybridize and fuse in sympatry (differential fusion).

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