Microgeographic Patterns of Genetic and Morphological Variation in Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis)

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Surveys of genetic population structure are often limited to large geographic scales because geographically close populations are indistinguishable. Genetic uniformity across adjacent demes can be interpreted as evidence for cohesion (panmixia) or recent divergence. However, poor genetic resolution at microgeographic scales can also arise from the use of overly conservative (slowly evolving) markers. This study examines the ability of hypervariable, minisatellite loci to discriminate among geographically close populations of

Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) and to track morphological differentiation at a microgeographic scale (interregional distance < 55 km). Savannah sparrows breeding at five island and two mainland sites in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada, show concordant patterns of variation in external morphology (seven characters) and multilocus DNA fingerprinting profiles (S,y): island sparrows are phenotypically larger and genetically more similar to each other than they are to mainland sparrows. This pattern of variation is consistent with both adaptive (natural selection) and nonadaptive (genetic drift) mechanisms of population divergence. Based on minisatellite diversity, the effective size of both island and mainland populations is 37, an estimate substantially lower than census population sizes. These data are discordant with observations of sparrow vagility and abundance and suggest a closer examination of microgeographic patterns in avian systems.

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