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Keywords:

  • coalescent;
  • haemoglobin;
  • high-altitude;
  • hypoxia;
  • introns;
  • isolation with migration;
  • mtDNA;
  • Patagonia;
  • stiff-tailed ducks;
  • waterfowl

Abstract

Andean uplift played a key role in Neotropical bird diversification, yet past dispersal and genetic adaptation to high-altitude environments remain little understood. Here we use multilocus population genetics to study population history and historical demographic processes in the ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), a stiff-tailed diving duck comprising three subspecies distributed from Canada to Tierra del Fuego and inhabiting wetlands from sea level to 4500 m in the Andes. We sequenced the mitochondrial DNA, four autosomal introns and three haemoglobin genes (αA, αD, βA) and used isolation-with-migration (IM) models to study gene flow between North America and South America, and between the tropical and southern Andes. Our analyses indicated that ruddy ducks dispersed first from North America to the tropical Andes, then from the tropical Andes to the southern Andes. While no nonsynonymous substitutions were found in either α globin gene, three amino acid substitutions were observed in the βA globin. Based on phylogenetic reconstruction and power analysis, the first βA substitution, found in all Andean individuals, was acquired when ruddy ducks dispersed from low altitude in North America to high altitude in the tropical Andes, whereas the two additional substitutions occurred more recently, when ruddy ducks dispersed from high altitude in the tropical Andes to low altitude in the southern Andes. This stepwise colonization pattern accompanied by polarized βA globin amino acid replacements suggest that ruddy ducks first acclimatized or adapted to the Andean highlands and then again to the lowlands. In addition, ruddy ducks colonized the Andean highlands via a less common route as compared to other waterbird species that colonized the Andes northwards from the southern cone of South America.