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Keywords:

  • genetic diversity;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • range expansion;
  • selection signature;
  • invasion

Abstract

Conventional wisdom predicts that sequential founder events will cause genetic diversity to erode in species with expanding geographic ranges, limiting evolutionary potential at the range margin. Here, we show that invasive European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in South Africa preserve genetic diversity during range expansion, possibly as a result of frequent long-distance dispersal events. We further show that unfavourable environmental conditions trigger enhanced dispersal, as indicated by signatures of selection detected across the expanding range. This brings genetic variation to the expansion front, counterbalancing the cumulative effects of sequential founding events and optimizing standing genetic diversity and thus evolutionary potential at range margins during spread. Therefore, dispersal strategies should be highlighted as key determinants of the ecological and evolutionary performances of species in novel environments and in response to global environmental change.