Social interactions predict genetic diversification: An experimental manipulation in shorebirds

Charles Cunningham, Jorge E. Parra, Lucy Coals, Marcela Beltrán, Sama Zefania, Tamás Székely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)


Mating strategy and social behavior influence gene flow and hence affect levels of genetic differentiation and potentially speciation. Previous genetic analyses of closely related plovers Charadrius spp. found strikingly different population genetic structure in Madagascar: Kittlitz's plovers are spatially homogenous whereas white-fronted plovers have well segregated and geographically distinct populations. Here, we test the hypotheses that Kittlitz's plovers are spatially interconnected and have extensive social interactions that facilitate gene flow, whereas white-fronted plovers are spatially discrete and have limited social interactions. By experimentally removing mates from breeding pairs and observing the movements of mate-searching plovers in both species, we compare the spatial behavior of Kittlitz's and white-fronted plovers within a breeding season. The behavior of experimental birds was largely consistent with expectations: Kittlitz's plovers travelled further, sought new mates in larger areas, and interacted with more individuals than white-fronted plovers, however there was no difference in breeding dispersal. These results suggest that mating strategies, through spatial behavior and social interactions, are predictors of gene flow and thus genetic differentiation and speciation. Our study highlights the importance of using social behavior to understand gene flow. However, further work is needed to investigate the relative importance of social structure, as well as intra- and inter-season dispersal, in influencing the genetic structures of populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-618
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date14 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • dispersal, genetic structure, gene flow, Madagascar, mating opportunities, mating systems, speciation, social network, spatial behavior, shorebird

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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