Geographically clustered phenotypes often demonstrate consistent patterns in molecular markers, particularly mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) traditionally used in phylogeographic studies. However, distinct evolutionary trajectories among traits and markers can lead to their discordance. First, geographic structure in phenotypic traits and nuclear molecular markers can be co-aligned but inconsistent with mtDNA (mito-nuclear discordance). Alternatively, phenotypic variation can have little to do with patterns in neither mtDNA nor nuclear markers. Disentangling between these distinct patterns can provide insight into the role of selection, demography and gene flow in population divergence. Here, we examined a previously reported case of strong inconsistency between geographic structure in mtDNA and plumage traits in a widespread polytypic bird species, the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). We tested whether this pattern is due to mito-nuclear discordance or discrepancy between morphological evolution and both nuclear and mtDNA markers. We analysed population differentiation and structure across six out of nine commonly recognized subspecies using 17 microsatellite loci and a combination of microsatellites and plumage indices in a comprehensively sampled region of a contact between two subspecies. We did not find support for the mito-nuclear discordance hypothesis: nuclear markers indicated a subtle signal of genetic clustering only partially consistent with plumage groups, similar to previous findings that relied on mtDNA. We discuss evolutionary factors that could have shaped the intricate patterns of phenotypic diversification in the White wagtail and the role that repeated selection on plumage ‘hotspots’ and hybridization may have played.
- mito-nuclear discordance
- phenotypic diversification
- plumage evolution
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics