Sex chromosome inversions enforce reproductive isolation across an avian hybrid zone

Daniel M. Hooper*, Simon C. Griffith, Trevor D. Price

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    58 Citations (Scopus)
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    Across hybrid zones, the sex chromosomes are often more strongly differentiated than the autosomes. This is regularly attributed to the greater frequency of reproductive incompatibilities accumulating on sex chromosomes and their exposure in the heterogametic sex. Working within an avian hybrid zone, we explore the possibility that chromosome inversions differentially accumulate on the Z chromosome compared to the autosomes and thereby contribute to Z chromosome differentiation. We analyse the northern Australian hybrid zone between two subspecies of the long-tailed finch (Poephila acuticauda), first described based on differences in bill colour, using reduced-representation genomic sequencing for 293 individuals over a 1,530-km transect. Autosomal differentiation between subspecies is minimal. In contrast, 75% of the Z chromosome is highly differentiated and shows a steep genomic cline, which is displaced 350 km to the west of the cline in bill colour. Differentiation is associated with two or more putative chromosomal inversions, each predominating in one subspecies. If inversions reduce recombination between hybrid incompatibilities, they are selectively favoured and should therefore accumulate in hybrid zones. We argue that this predisposes inversions to differentially accumulate on the Z chromosome. One genomic region affecting bill colour is on the Z, but the main candidates are on chromosome 8. This and the displacement of the bill colour and Z chromosome cline centres suggest that bill colour has not strongly contributed to inversion accumulation. Based on cline width, however, the Z chromosome and bill colour both contribute to reproductive isolation established between this pair of subspecies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1246-1262
    Number of pages17
    JournalMolecular Ecology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


    • chromosome inversion
    • Estrildidae
    • hybridization
    • sex chromosome
    • speciation


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