Mitochondrial DNA and plumage evolution in the white wagtail Motacilla alba

Alexandra Pavlova, Robert M. Zink, Sievert Rohwer, Evgeniy A. Koblik, Yaroslav A. Red'kin, Igor V. Fadeev, Evgeniy V. Nesterov

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35 Scopus citations


We analyzed sequences of two mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) gene regions (control region and ND2) totaling 1477 base-pairs from 232 specimens of the white wagtail Motacilla alba obtained from 27 localities throughout Eurasia. Although overall haplotype diversity was relatively low (0.79) and the most common haplotype was shared by 45% of individuals, belonging to six subspecies, a high level of population differentiation was detected. The mtDNA tree revealed three clades: (1) most individuals from Krasnodar (belonging to M. a. alba subspecies), (2) all individuals from Almaty and some from Primor'e (belonging to M. a. personata, M. a. lugens and M. a. leucopsis subspecies), and (3) the remaining individuals (representing all subspecies and all localities except Almaty). We suggest that these three clades represent historically isolated populations that relatively recently came into secondary contact in Krasnodar and Primor'e. None of the six subspecies were reciprocally monophyletic in the mtDNA tree. The Krasnodar population appeared to receive immigrants from other localities, but distinctive haplotypes from this locality did not appear elsewhere, suggesting asymmetric gene flow. Signatures of recent gene flow between northern populations were detected, and there was no evidence of isolation by distance within the northern group of populations. Mismatch distributions for most localities were consistent with population expansions. We also analyzed 12 male plumage characters from 93 study skins sampled from 24 populations. Phylogenetic trees resulting from separate genetic and morphological analyses were incongruent. Plumage evolution seems to be under strong sexual or natural selection, which favors particular phenotypes in various areas irrespective of the mitochondrial background. Dispersal events at different evolutionary times could have obscured the effects of earlier isolation events. The mtDNA data does not support species status for M. a. lugens and M. a. personata, which shared haplotypes with other subspecies of M. alba. We recommend that M. lugens and M. personata are placed as junior synonyms of M. alba.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-336
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2005


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