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Extensive hybridization in a contact zone between MacGillivray's warblers Oporornistolmiei and mourning warblers O. philadelphia detected using molecular and morphological analyses


  • Darren E. Irwin,

  • Alan Brelsford,

  • David P. L. Toews,

  • Christie MacDonald,

  • Mark Phinney

D. E. Irwin (correspondence), A. Brelsford, D. P. L. Toews and C. MacDonald, Biodiv. Res. Centre, and Dept. of Zool., Univ. of British Columbia, 6270 Univ. Blvd., Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada. E-mail: – M. Phinney, Louisiana-Pacific Canada Ltd., 116-116th Ave, Dawson Creek, BC, V1G 3C8, Canada.


There are many pairs of related western and eastern avian taxa in North America, and for many of these, little is known about their interactions in sympatry. One example is provided by MacGillivray's warblers Oporornis tolmiei and mourning warblers Oporornis philadelphia. There have been occasional reports of range contact and hybridization between these forms, but recent authors have doubted these reports. We show that these two species do in fact come into extensive range contact in the southern Peace Region of British Columbia, just east of the Rocky Mountains. We analyze whether patterns of variation in morphometric traits, eye-arcs, a mitochondrial DNA marker (COI), and a Z-chromosome marker (CHD1Z) are consistent with reproductive isolation or hybridization in this contact zone. Each trait shows strong differences between allopatric MacGillivray's warblers and allopatric mourning warblers, yet in the contact zone there are many birds with a combination of traits typical of both species. This is clearly seen in the molecular markers, for which 18 of 50 birds genotyped in the contact zone have both western and eastern alleles. These patterns strongly indicate the presence of an extensive hybrid zone between MacGillivray's and mourning warblers. Variation in each of the four traits is explained well by a single sigmoidal cline, with a width of roughly 150 km (or 130 km based only on the molecular markers). This is only the fourth hybrid zone known among North American wood-warblers (Parulidae).