Low but contrasting neutral genetic differentiation shaped by winter temperature in European great tits

Mélissa Lemoine*, Kay Lucek, Charles Perrier, Verena Saladin, Frank Adriaensen, Emilio Barba, Eduardo J. Belda, Anne Charmantier, Mariusz Cichoń, Tapio Eeva, Arnaud Grégoire, Camilla A. Hinde, Arild Johnsen, Jan Komdeur, Raivo Mänd, Erik Matthysen, Ana Cláudia Norte, Natalia Pitala, Ben C. Sheldon, Tore SlagsvoldJoost M. Tinbergen, János Török, Richard Ubels, Kees van Oers, Marcel E. Visser, Blandine Doligez, Heinz Richner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Gene flow is usually thought to reduce genetic divergence and impede local adaptation by homogenising gene pools between populations. However, evidence for local adaptation and phenotypic differentiation in highly mobile species, experiencing high levels of gene flow, is emerging. Assessing population genetic structure at different spatial scales is thus a crucial step towards understanding mechanisms underlying intraspecific differentiation and diversification. Here, we studied the population genetic structure of a highly mobile species - the great tit Parus major - at different spatial scales. We analysed 884 individuals from 30 sites across Europe including 10 close-by sites (<50 km), using 22 microsatellite markers. Overall we found a low but significant genetic differentiation among sites (FST = 0.008). Genetic differentiation was higher, and genetic diversity lower, in south-western Europe. These regional differences were statistically best explained by winter temperature. Overall, our results suggest that great tits form a single patchy metapopulation across Europe, in which genetic differentiation is independent of geographical distance and gene flow may be regulated by environmental factors via movements related to winter severity. This might have important implications for the evolutionary trajectories of sub-populations, especially in the context of climate change, and calls for future investigations of local differences in costs and benefits of philopatry at large scales.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)668-685
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • F-statistics
  • Isolation-by-distance
  • Latitude
  • Microsatellites
  • Parus major
  • Population genetic structure
  • Winter severity


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