Low genetic and morphological differentiation between an introduced population of dunnocks in New Zealand and an ancestral population in England
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Species invasions and exotic species introductions can be considered as ‘unplanned experiments’, which help us to understand the evolution of organisms. In this study, we investigated whether an exotic bird species, the dunnock (Prunella modularis), has diverged genetically and morphologically from its native source population (Cambridge, England) after introduction into a new environment (Dunedin, South Island of New Zealand; exotic population). We used a set of microsatellite markers and three morphological traits to quantify the divergence between these two populations. We quantified neutral genotypic differentiation between the populations, and also used an individual-based Bayesian clustering method to assess genetic structure. We compared morphological divergence using univariate and principal components analyses. We found that individuals from the Dunedin population are genetically distinct from the Cambridge population, but levels of differentiation are very low. Overall within-population levels of genetic diversity are low compared to other bird species, and effective population sizes are small; indicating that the native population probably has a historically low level of genetic diversity, and that the introduced population retained most of that diversity after its introduction into New Zealand. We found little evidence of morphological divergence, and the evolutionary rate of change in these traits is below the average for other taxa. Our study adds support to the growing literature showing that invasive species maintain most of their initial genetic diversity after multiple founder events, even when population size is severely reduced. Moreover, our morphological data indicate slow evolutionary rates in species introduced to similar habitats.