Sonsthagen, Sarah A., Wilson, Robert E., Chesser, R. Terry, Pons, Jean-Marc, Crochet, Pierre-Andre, Driskell, Amy C., and Dove, Carla J. 2016. "Recurrent hybridization and recent origin obscure phylogenetic relationships within the 'white-headed' gull (Larus sp.) complex." Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 103:41-54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2016.06.008
Species complexes that have undergone recent radiations are often characterized by extensive allele sharing due to recent ancestry and (or) introgressive hybridization. This can result in discordant evolutionary histories of genes and heterogeneous genomes, making delineating species limits difficult. Here we examine the phylogenetic relationships among a complex group of birds, the white-headed gulls (Aves: Laridae), which offer a unique window into the speciation process due to their recent evolutionary history and propensity to hybridize. Relationships were examined among 17 species (61 populations) using a multilocus approach, including mitochondrial and nuclear intron DNA sequences and microsatellite genotype information. Analyses of microsatellite and intron data resulted in some species-based groupings, although most species were not represented by a single cluster. Considerable allele and haplotype sharing among white-headed gull species was observed; no locus contained a species-specific clade. Despite this, our multilocus approach provided better resolution among some species than previous studies. Interestingly, most clades appear to correspond to geographic locality: our BEAST analysis recovered strong support for a northern European/Icelandic clade, a southern European/Russian clade, and a western North American/canus clade, with weak evidence for a high latitude clade spanning North America and northwestern Europe. This geographical structuring is concordant with behavioral observations of pervasive hybridization in areas of secondary contact. The extent of allele and haplotype sharing indicates that ecological and sexual selection are likely not strong enough to complete reproductive isolation within several species in the white-headed gull complex. This suggests that just a few genes are driving the speciation process.