Range Expansion of Kenyan House Sparrows (Passer domesticus): Evidence of Genetic Admixture and Human-Mediated Dispersal

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Journal of Heredity






Introduced species offer an opportunity to study the ecological process of range expansions. Recently, 3 mechanisms have been identified that may resolve the genetic paradox (the seemingly unlikely success of introduced species given the expected reduction in genetic diversity through bottlenecks or founder effects): multiple introductions, high propagule pressure, and epigenetics. These mechanisms are probably also important in range expansions (either natural or anthropogenic), yet this possibility remains untested in vertebrates. We used microsatellite variation (7 loci) in house sparrows (Passer domesticus), an introduced species that has been spreading across Kenya for ~60 years, to determine if patterns of variation could explain how this human commensal overcame the genetic paradox and expresses such considerable phenotypic differentiation across this new range. We note that in some cases, polygenic traits and epistasis among genes, for example, may not have negative effects on populations. House sparrows arrived in Kenya by a single introduction event (to Mombasa, ~1950) and have lower genetic diversity than native European and introduced North American populations. We used Bayesian clustering of individuals (n = 233) to detect that at least 2 types of range expansion occurred in Kenya: one with genetic admixture and one with little to no admixture. We also found that genetic diversity increased toward a range edge, and the range expansion was consistent with long-distance dispersal. Based on these data, we expect that the Kenyan range expansion was anthropogenically influenced, as the expansions of other introduced human commensals may also be.