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Absence of population structure across elevational gradients despite large phenotypic variation in mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli)
AuthorBranch, Carrie L.
Jahner, Joshua P.
Kozlovsky, Dovid Y.
Parchman, Thomas L.
Pravosudov, Vladimir V.
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Montane habitats are characterized by predictably rapid heterogeneity along elevational gradients and are useful for investigating the consequences of environmental heterogeneity for local adaptation and population genetic structure. Foodcaching mountain chickadees inhabit a continuous elevation gradient in the Sierra Nevada, and birds living at harsher, high elevations have better spatial memory ability and exhibit differences in male song structure and female mate preference compared to birds inhabiting milder, low elevations. While high elevation birds breed, on average, two weeks later than low elevation birds, the extent of gene flow between elevations is unknown. Despite phenotypic variation and indirect evidence for local adaptation, population genetic analyses based on 18 073 single nucleotide polymorphisms across three transects of high and low elevation populations provided no evidence for genetic differentiation. Analyses based on individual genotypes revealed no patterns of clustering, pairwise estimates of genetic differentiation (FST, Nei's D) were very low, and AMOVA revealed no evidence for genetic variation structured by transect or by low and high elevation sites within transects. In addition, we found no consistent evidence for strong parallel allele frequency divergence between low and high elevation sites within the three transects. Large elevation-related phenotypic variation may be maintained by strong selection despite gene flow and future work should focus on the mechanisms underlying such variation may be maintained by strong selection despite gene flow and future work should focus on the mechanisms underlying such variation.