More than the eye can see: Genomic insights into the drivers of genetic differentiation in Royal/Macaroni penguins across the Southern Ocean.
The study of systematics in wide-ranging seabirds can be challenging due to the vast geographic scales involved, as well as the possible discordance between molecular, morphological and behavioral data. In the Southern Ocean, macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) are distributed over a circumpolar range including populations in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic areas. Macquarie Island, in its relative isolation, is home to a closely related endemic taxon — the royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli), which is distinguishable from E. chrysolophus mainly by facial coloration. Although these sister taxa are widely accepted as representing distinct species based on morphological grounds, the extent of their genome-wide differentiation remains uncertain. In this study, we use genome-wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms to test genetic differentiation between these geographically isolated taxa and evaluate the main drivers of population structure among breeding colonies of macaroni/royal penguins. Genetic similarity observed between macaroni and royal penguins suggests they constitute a single evolutionary unit. Nevertheless, royal penguins exhibited a tendency to cluster only with macaroni individuals from Kerguelen Island, suggesting that dispersal occurs mainly between these neighboring colonies. A stepping stone model of differentiation of macaroni/royal populations was further supported by a strong pattern of isolation by distance detected across its whole distribution range, possibly driven by large geographic distances between colonies as well as natal philopatry. However, we also detected intraspecific genomic differentiation between Antarctic and sub-Antarctic populations of macaroni penguins, highlighting the role of environmental factors together with geographic distance in the processes of genetic differentiation between Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters.
Authors: Frugone, María José, López, María Eugenia, Segovia, Nicolás I., Cole, Theresa L., Lowther, Andrew, Pistorius, Pierre, Dantas, Gisele P.M., Petry, Maria Virginia, Bonadonna, Francesco, Trathan, Phil, Polanowski, Andrea, Wienecke, Barbara, Bi, Ke, Wang-Claypool, Cynthia Y., Waters, Jonathan M., Bowie, Rauri C.K., Poulin, Elie, Vianna, Juliana A.