New paper by Jen Walsh et al on sparrow diversity

Postdoc Jen Walsh and collaborators recently published a paper in Molecular Ecology investigating the genetic structure of the Saltmarsh-Nelson’s sparrow subspecies complex. Using a reduced representation sequencing approach coupled with morphological data, this study offers the first comprehensive view into subspecies variation within Saltmarsh and Nelson’s sparrows. The authors found that morphological differences were subtle, with individuals sorting along a continuous phenotypic gradient. In contrast, the genetic data identified three distinct clusters corresponding to populations that inhabit coastal salt marsh, interior freshwater marsh and coastal brackish-water marsh habitats. These patterns support the current species-level recognition but do not match the subspecies-level taxonomy within each species — a finding which may have relevant conservation implications. The authors conclude that this evidence for adaptive variation among subspecies warrants the consideration of evolutionary potential and genetic novelty when identifying conservation units for this group.

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