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A recent invasive population of the European starling sturnus vulgaris has lower genetic diversity and higher fluctuating asymmetry than primary invasive and native populations

Abstract

Fluctuating asymmetries (FA) are small stress-induced random deviations from perfect symmetry that arise during the development of bilaterally symmetrical traits. One of the factors that can reduce developmental stability of the individuals and cause FA at a population level is the loss of genetic variation. Populations of founding colonists frequently have lower genetic variation than their ancestral populations that could be reflected in a higher level of FA. The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is native to Eurasia and was introduced successfully in the USA in 1890 and Argentina in 1983. In this study, we documented the genetic diversity and FA of starlings from England (ancestral population), USA (primary introduction) and Argentina (secondary introduction). We predicted the Argentinean starlings would have the highest level of FA and lowest genetic diversity of the three populations. We captured wild adult European starlings in England, USA, and Argentina, measured their mtDNA diversity and allowed them to molt under standardized conditions to evaluate their FA of primary feathers. For genetic analyses, we extracted DNA from blood samples of individuals from Argentina and USA and from feather samples from individuals from England and sequenced the mitochondrial control region. Starlings in Argentina showed the highest composite FA and exhibited the lowest haplotype and nucleotide diversity. The USA population showed a level of FA and genetic diversity similar to the native population. Therefore, the level of asymmetry and genetic diversity found among these populations was consistent with our predictions based on their invasion history.

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Availability of data and material

The datasets of fluctuating asymmetries generated and analysed during the current study are available as Suplementary material and new haplotypes have been deposited in GenBank.

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Acknowledgements

We thank two anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor Phillip Cassey who provided their helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. We thank Alex Kacelnik for providing the feathers of starlings from Oxford. We are grateful to Ignacio Crudele who generously made the wing drawing. This work was supported by grants of the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica and the University of Buenos Aires.

Funding

This work was supported by grants of the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica and the University of Buenos Aires.

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Correspondence to Vanina D. Fiorini.

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This manuscript is not being considered elsewhere and all co-authors have agreed to this submission. We have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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Experiment protocols have been established in compliance with the ethical standards, ensuring that all necessary precautions have been taken and the welfare of the birds has been respected. The capture and housing of starlings in England was permitted by the UK Home Office. The capture of starlings in the USA was permitted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and all animal procedures were approved by the William & Mary Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. In Argentina the work complied with the Argentinean Law for the Conservation of Wild Fauna (22421/81).

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Fiorini, V.D., Domínguez, M., Reboreda, J.C. et al. A recent invasive population of the European starling sturnus vulgaris has lower genetic diversity and higher fluctuating asymmetry than primary invasive and native populations. Biol Invasions (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-021-02653-x

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Keywords

  • Exotic bird species
  • Fluctuating asymmetry
  • Genetic variability
  • Sturnus vulgaris