Rapid evolutionary divergence of a songbird population following recent colonization of an urban area

Guillermo Friis, Jonathan W. Atwell, Adam M. Fudickar, Timothy J. Greives, Pamela J. Yeh, Trevor D. Price, Ellen D. Ketterson, Borja Milá

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colonization of a novel environment by a few individuals can lead to rapid evolutionary change, yet there is scarce evidence of the relative contributions of neutral and selective factors in promoting divergence during the early stages of colonization. Here we explore the role of neutral and selective forces in the divergence of a unique urban population of the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), which became established on the campus of the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) in the early 1980s. Previous studies based on microsatellite loci documented significant genetic differentiation of the urban population as well as divergence in phenotypic traits relative to nearby montane populations, yet the geographical origin of the colonization and the contributing factors remained uncertain. Our genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism data set confirmed the marked genetic differentiation of the UCSD population, and we identified the coastal subspecies pinosus from central California as its sister group instead of the neighbouring mountain population. Demographic inference recovered a separation from pinosus as recent as 20–32 generations ago after a strong bottleneck, suggesting a role for drift in genetic differentiation. However, we also found significant associations between habitat variables and genome-wide variants linked to functional genes, some of which have been reported as potentially adaptive in birds inhabiting modified environments. These results suggest that the interplay between founder events and selection may result in rapid shifts in neutral and adaptive loci across the genome, and reveal the UCSD junco population as a case of contemporary evolutionary divergence in an anthropogenic environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2625-2643
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2022


  • Junco
  • founder effects
  • genetic drift
  • local adaptation
  • rapid divergence
  • urban colonization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Rapid evolutionary divergence of a songbird population following recent colonization of an urban area'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this