Epigenetic and Genetic Variation Among Three Separate Introductions of the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Into Australia

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Royal Society Open Science






Invasive populations are often associated with low levels of genetic diversity owing to population bottlenecks at the initial stages of invasion. Despite this, the ability of invasive species to adapt rapidly in response to novel environments is well documented. Epigenetic mechanisms have recently been proposed to facilitate the success of invasive species by compensating for reduced levels of genetic variation. Here, we use methylation sensitive-amplification fragment length polymorphism and microsatellite analyses to compare levels of epigenetic and genetic diversity and differentiation across 15 sites in the introduced Australian house sparrow population. We find patterns of epigenetic and genetic differentiation that are consistent with historical descriptions of three distinct, introductions events. However unlike genetic differentiation, epigenetic differentiation was higher among sample sites than among invasion clusters, suggesting that patterns of epigenetic variation are more strongly influenced by local environmental stimuli or sequential founder events than the initial diversity in the introduction population. Interestingly, we fail to detect correlations between pairwise site comparisons of epigenetic and genetic differentiation, suggesting that some of the observed epigenetic variation has arisen independently of genetic variation. We also fail to detect the potentially compensatory relationship between epigenetic and genetic diversity that has been detected in a more recent house sparrow invasion in Africa. We discuss the potential for this relationship to be obscured by recovered genetic diversity in more established populations, and highlight the importance of incorporating introduction history into population-wide epigenetic analyses.