Yellow-bellied (Sphyrapicus varius), red-breasted (S. ruber) and red-naped (S. nuchalis) sapsuckers are three species that make up the varius sapsucker superspecies complex. All three species are phenotypically distinct and are widely distributed throughout North America with minimal overlap to their ranges where hybrid zones occur. Genetic studies to date are limited to allozyme and mitochondrial studies that are unable to conclusively differentiate between the three species. Due to limited genetic evidence, classification of the congeners as individual species is instead a result of phenotypic differentiation, distinct geographic distribution, and evidence of assortative mating within contact zones. Our study uses genotyping by sequencing (GBS) to study speciation in the varius complex and provide evidence of a genetic basis for species identification. Samples have been collected at various sites throughout North America for each of the species. We are examining these samples to initially determine if the three species are genetically distinct. Our second question focusses on the level of introgression in each species and whether it is a result of recent hybridization or ancient admixture.
Hybrid zones, where two divergent taxa meet and interbreed, offer unique opportunities to investigate how climate contributes to reproductive isolation between closely related taxa and how these taxa may respond to climatic changes. Red-naped (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) and Red-breasted (Sphyrapicus ruber) sapsuckers (Aves: Picidae) hybridize along a narrow contact zone that stretches from northern California to British Columbia. The hybrid zone between these species has been studied extensively for more than 100 years and represents an excellent system for investigations of the evolution of reproductive isolation. Shifts in the proportions of phenotypes at hybrid localities since 1910 that were inferred using specimens from museum collections were confirmed using species distribution models. We predicted the historical, current, and future distributions of parental and hybrid sapsuckers using Random Forests models to quantify how climate change is affecting hybrid zone movement in the Pacific Northwest. We found observed distribution shifts of parental sapsuckers were likely the result of climate change over the past 100 years, with these shifts predicted to continue for both sapsuckers over the next 80 years. We found Red-breasted Sapsuckers are predicted to continue to expand, while Red-naped Sapsuckers are predicted to contract substantially under future climate scenarios. As a result of the predicted changes, the amount of overlap in the distribution of these sapsuckers may decrease. Using hybrid phenotypes, we found the climate niche occupied by the hybrid zone is predicted to disappear under future conditions. The disappearance of this climate niche where the two parental species come into contact and hybridize may lead to a substantial reduction in genetic introgression. Understanding the impacts of global climate change on hybrid zones may help us to better understand how speciation has been shaped by climate in the past, as well as how evolution may respond to climate change in the future.
Three species of closely related woodpeckers (sapsuckers; Sphyrapicus) hybridize where they come into contact, presenting a rare ‘λ-shape’ meeting of hybrid zones. Two of the three arms of this hybrid zone are located on either side of the Interior Plateau of British Columbia, Canada bordering the foothills of the Coast Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The third arm is located in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The zones of hybridization present high variability of phenotypes and alleles in relatively small areas and provide an opportunity to examine levels of reproductive isolation between the taxa involved. We examined phenotypes (morphometric traits and plumage) and genotypes of 175 live birds across the two hybrid zones. We used the Genotyping By Sequencing (GBS) method to identify 180 partially diagnostic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to generate a genetic hybrid index (GHI) for each bird. Phenotypically diverged S. ruber and S. nuchalis are genetically closely related, while S. nuchalis and S. varius have similar plumage but are well separated at the genetic markers studied. The width of both hybrid zones is narrower than expected under neutrality, and analyses of both genotypes and phenotypes indicate that hybrids are rare in the hybrid zone. Rarity of hybrids indicates assortative mating and/or some form of fitness reduction in hybrids, which might maintain the species complex despite close genetic distance and introgression. These findings further support the treatment of the three taxa as distinct species.