Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Comparative Study
, 271 (1542), 893-901

The Herring Gull Complex Is Not a Ring Species

Comparative Study

The Herring Gull Complex Is Not a Ring Species

Dorit Liebers et al. Proc Biol Sci.


Under what circumstances speciation in sexually reproducing animals can occur without geographical disjunction is still controversial. According to the ring-species model, a reproductive barrier may arise through 'isolation by distance' when peripheral populations of a species meet after expanding around some uninhabitable barrier. The classical example of this kind of speciation is the herring gull (Larus argentatus) complex, with a circumpolar distribution in the Northern Hemisphere. Based on mitochondrial DNA variation among 21 gull taxa, we show that members of this complex differentiated largely in allopatry following multiple vicariance and long-distance-colonization events, not primarily through isolation by distance. Reproductive isolation evolved more rapidly between some lineages than between others, irrespective of their genetic distance. Extant taxa are the result of divergent as well as reticulate evolution between two ancestral lineages originally separated in a North Atlantic refugium and a continental Eurasian refugium, respectively. Continental birds expanded along the entire north Eurasian coast and via Beringia into North America. Contrary to the ring-species model, we find no genetic evidence for a closure of the circumpolar ring through colonization of Europe by North American herring gulls. However, closure of the ring in the opposite direction may be imminent, with lesser black-backed gulls about to colonize North America.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 22 articles

See all "Cited by" articles


    1. Mol Ecol. 1998 Apr;7(4):533-45 - PubMed
    1. Mol Ecol. 2001 Oct;10(10):2447-62 - PubMed
    1. Mol Ecol. 2002 Apr;11(4):809-19 - PubMed
    1. Science. 1987 May 15;236(4803):787-92 - PubMed
    1. J Mol Biol. 1990 Apr 20;212(4):599-634 - PubMed

Publication types

LinkOut - more resources