Comparative Population Genomics of Cryptic Speciation and Adaptive Divergence in Bicknell's and Gray-Cheeked Thrushes (Aves: Catharus bicknelli and Catharus minimus)

Genome Biol Evol. 2022 Jan 4;14(1):evab255. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evab255.


Cryptic speciation may occur when reproductive isolation is recent or the accumulation of morphological differences between sister lineages is slowed by stabilizing selection preventing phenotypic differentiation. In North America, Bicknell's Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) and its sister species, the Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus), are parapatrically breeding migratory songbirds, distinguishable in nature only by subtle differences in song and coloration, and were recognized as distinct species only in the 1990s. Previous molecular studies have estimated that the species diverged approximately 120,000-420,000 YBP and found very low levels of introgression despite their similarity and sympatry in the spring (prebreeding) migration. To further clarify the history, genetic divergence, genomic structure, and adaptive processes in C. bicknelli and C. minimus, we sequenced and assembled high-coverage reference genomes of both species and resequenced genomes from population samples of C. bicknelli, C. minimus, and two individuals of the Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus). The genome of C. bicknelli exhibits markedly higher abundances of transposable elements compared with other Catharus and chicken. Demographic and admixture analyses confirm moderate genome-wide differentiation (Fst ≈ 0.10) and limited gene flow between C. bicknelli and C. minimus, but suggest a more recent divergence than estimates based on mtDNA. We find evidence of rapid evolution of the Z-chromosome and elevated divergence consistent with natural selection on genomic regions near genes involved with neuronal processes in C. bicknelli. These genomes are a useful resource for future investigations of speciation, migration, and adaptation in Catharus thrushes.

Keywords: divergence time; effective population size; selective sweeps; speciation; transposable element.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Flow
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genomics
  • Metagenomics*
  • Reproductive Isolation
  • Songbirds* / genetics

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.q573n5tjx