Migratory divides coincide with reproductive barriers across replicated avian hybrid zones above the Tibetan Plateau


Migratory divides are proposed to be catalysts for speciation across a diversity of taxa. However, it is difficult to test the relative contributions of migratory behaviour vs. other divergent traits to reproductive isolation. Comparing hybrid zones with and without migratory divides offers a rare opportunity to directly examine the contribution of divergent migratory behaviour to reproductive barriers. We show that across replicate sampling transects of two pairs of barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) subspecies, strong reproductive isolation coincided with a migratory divide spanning 20 degrees of latitude. A third subspecies pair exhibited no evidence for a migratory divide and hybridised extensively. Within migratory divides, overwintering habitats were associated with assortative mating, implicating a central contribution of divergent migratory behaviour to reproductive barriers. The remarkable geographic coincidence between migratory divides and genetic breaks supports a long-standing hypothesis that the Tibetan Plateau is a substantial barrier contributing to the diversity of Siberian avifauna.

Ecology Letters