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Reproductive allochrony in seasonally sympatric populations maintained by differential response to photoperiod: Implications for population divergence and response to climate change

February 23, 2016

Reproductive allochrony presents a potential barrier to gene flow and is common in seasonally sympatric migratory and sedentary birds. Mechanisms mediating reproductive allochrony can influence population divergence and the capacity of populations to respond to environmental change. We asked whether reproductive allochrony in seasonally sympatric birds results from a difference in response to supplementary or photoperiodic cues and whether the response varies in relation to the distance separating breeding and wintering locations as measured by stable isotopes. We held seasonally sympatric migratory and sedentary male dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) in a common garden in early spring under simulated natural changes in photoperiod and made measurements of reproductive and migratory physiology. On the same dates and photoperiods, sedentary juncos had higher testosterone (initial and gonadotropin-releasing hormone induced), more developed cloacal protuberances, and larger testes than migrants. In contrast, migratory juncos had larger fat reserves (fuel for migration). We found a negative relationship between testis mass and feather hydrogen isotope ratios, indicating that testis growth was more delayed in migrants making longer migrations. We conclude that reproductive allochrony in seasonally sympatric migratory and sedentary birds can result from a differential response to photoperiodic cues in a common garden, and as a result, gene flow between migrants and residents may be reduced by photoperiodic control of reproductive development. Further, earlier breeding in response to future climate change may currently be constrained by differential response to photoperiodic cues.