Parallel plumage colour evolution and introgressive hybridization in wheatears

Manuel Schweizer, Vera Warmuth, Niloofar Alaei Kakhki, Mansour Aliabadian, Marc Förschler, Hadoram Shirihai, Alexander Suh, Reto Burri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Genetic and phenotypic mosaics, in which various phenotypes and different genomic regions show discordant patterns of species or population divergence, offer unique opportunities to study the role of ancestral and introgressed genetic variation in phenotypic evolution. Here, we investigated the evolution of discordant phenotypic and genetic divergence in a monophyletic clade of four songbird taxa—pied wheatear (O. pleschanka), Cyprus wheatear (Oenanthe cypriaca), and western and eastern subspecies of black-eared wheatear (O. h. hispanica and O. h. melanoleuca). Phenotypically, black back and neck sides distinguish pied and Cyprus wheatears from the white-backed/necked black-eared wheatears. Meanwhile, mitochondrial variation only distinguishes western black-eared wheatear. In the absence of nuclear genetic data, and given frequent hybridization among eastern black-eared and pied wheatear, it remains unclear whether introgression is responsible for discordance between mitochondrial divergence patterns and phenotypic similarities, or whether plumage coloration evolved in parallel. Multispecies coalescent analyses of about 20,000 SNPs obtained from RAD data mapped to a draft genome assembly resolve the species tree, provide evidence for the parallel evolution of colour phenotypes and establish western and eastern black-eared wheatears as independent taxa that should be recognized as full species. The presence of the entire admixture spectrum in the Iranian hybrid zone and the detection of footprints of introgression from pied into eastern black-eared wheatear beyond the hybrid zone despite strong geographic structure of ancestry proportions furthermore suggest a potential role for introgression in parallel plumage colour evolution. Our results support the importance of standing heterospecific and/or ancestral variation in phenotypic evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-110
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • incomplete lineage sorting
  • introgression
  • melanin-based coloration
  • standing genetic variation

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