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Divergence in the face of gene flow in two Charadrius plovers along the Chinese coast

By Xuejing Wang, Pinjia Que, Gerald Heckel, Junhua Hu, Xuecong Zhang, Chung-Yu Chiang, Qin Huang, Yang Liu, Jonathan Martinez, Nan Zhang, Emilio Pagani-Núñez, Caroline Dingle, Leung Yu Yan, Tamás Székely, Zhengwang Zhang, Yang Liu

Posted 31 Aug 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/406041

Speciation with gene flow is an alternative to the nascence of new taxa in strict allopatric separation. Indeed, many taxa have parapatric distributions at present. It is often unclear if these are secondary contacts, e.g. caused by past glaciation cycles or the manifestation of speciation with gene flow, which hampers our understanding of how different forces drive diversification. Here we studied genetic, phenotypic and ecological aspects of divergence in a pair of incipient species, the Kentish (Charadrius alexandrinus) and the white-faced Plovers (C. dealbatus), shorebirds with parapatric breeding ranges along the Chinese coast. We assessed divergence based on molecular markers with different modes of inheritance and quantified phenotypic and ecological divergence in aspects of morphometric, dietary and climatic niches. These analyses revealed small to moderate levels of genetic and phenotypic distinctiveness with symmetric gene flow across the contact area at the Chinese coast. The two species diverged approximately half a million years ago in dynamical isolation and secondary contact due to cycling sea level changes between the Eastern and Southern China Sea in the mid-late Pleistocene. We found evidence of character displacement and ecological niche differentiation between the two species, invoking the role of selection in facilitating divergence despite gene flow. These findings imply that the ecology can indeed counter gene flow through divergent selection and thus contribute to incipient speciation in these plovers. Furthermore, our study highlights the importance of using integrative datasets to reveal the evolutionary history and underlying mechanisms of speciation.

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