Selection on a small genomic region underpins differentiation in multiple color traits between two warbler species

Silu Wang, Sievert Rohwer, Devin R. de Zwaan, David P.L. Toews, Irby J. Lovette, Jacqueline Mackenzie, Darren Irwin

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Speciation is one of the most important processes in biology, yet the study of the genomic changes underlying this process is in its infancy. North American warbler species Setophaga townsendi and Setophaga occidentalis hybridize in a stable hybrid zone, following a period of geographic separation. Genomic differentiation accumulated during geographic isolation can be homogenized by introgression at secondary contact, whereas genetic regions that cause low hybrid fitness can be shielded from such introgression. Here, we examined the genomic underpinning of speciation by investigating (1) the genetic basis of divergent pigmentation traits between species, (2) variation in differentiation across the genome, and (3) the evidence for selection maintaining differentiation in the pigmentation genes. Using tens of thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) genotyped in hundreds of individuals within and near the hybrid zone, genome-wide association mapping revealed a single SNP associated with cheek, crown, breast coloration, and flank streaking, reflecting pleiotropy (one gene affecting multiple traits) or close physical linkage of different genes affecting different traits. This SNP is within an intron of the RALY gene, hence we refer to it as the RALY SNP. We then examined between-species genomic differentiation, using both genotyping-by-sequencing and whole genome sequencing. We found that the RALY SNP is within one of the highest peaks of differentiation, which contains three genes known to influence pigmentation: ASIP, EIF2S2, and RALY (the ASIP-RALY gene block). Heterozygotes at this gene block are likely of reduced fitness, as the geographic cline of the RALY SNP has been narrow over two decades. Together, these results reflect at least one barrier to gene flow within this narrow (∼200 kb) genomic region that modulates plumage difference between species. Despite extensive gene flow between species across the genome, this study provides evidence that selection on a phenotype-associated genomic region maintains a stable species boundary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)502-515
Number of pages14
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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