Phenotypic divergence despite low genetic differentiation in house sparrow populations

Shachar Ben Cohen, Roi Dor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studying patterns of phenotypic variation among populations can shed light on the drivers of evolutionary processes. The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is one of the world's most ubiquitous bird species, as well as a successful invader. We investigated phenotypic variation in house sparrow populations across a climatic gradient and in relation to a possible scenario of an invasion. We measured variation in morphological, coloration, and behavioral traits (exploratory behavior and neophobia) and compared it to the neutral genetic variation. We found that sparrows were larger and darker in northern latitudes, in accordance with Bergmann's and Gloger's biogeographic rules. Morphology and behavior mostly differed between the southernmost populations and the other regions, supporting the possibility of an invasion. Genetic differentiation was low and diversity levels were similar across populations, indicating high gene flow. Nevertheless, the southernmost and northern populations differed genetically to some extent. Furthermore, genetic differentiation (F ST) was lower in comparison to phenotypic variation (P ST), indicating that the phenotypic variation is shaped by directional selection or by phenotypic plasticity. This study expands our knowledge on evolutionary mechanisms and biological invasions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number394
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 10 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

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