Darwin’s Finches: a model of landscape effects on metacommunity dynamics in the Galápagos Archipelago

30 June 2019

Lawson, Lucinda; Niedzwiecki, John; Petren, Ken

Darwin’s Finches represent a dynamic radiation of birds within the Galápagos Archipelago. Unlike classic island radiations dominated by island endemics and intuitive “conveyer belt” colonization with little subsequent dispersal, species of Darwin’s Finches have populations distributed across many islands and each island contains complex metacommunities of closely related birds. Understanding the role of metacommunity and structured population dynamics in speciation within this heterogeneric island system would provide insights into the roles of fragmentation and dispersal. In this study, a large multi-species dataset and a comparative ground finch dataset (two co-distributed lineages) were used to show how landscape features influence patterns of gene flow across the archipelago. Factors expected to regulate migration including distance and movement from large, central islands to small, peripheral islands were rejected in the multi-species dataset. Instead, the harsh northeast islands contributed individuals to the larger central islands. Successful immigration relies on three factors: arriving, surviving, and reproducing, thus the dispersal towards the central islands may be either be due to more migrants orienting towards these land masses due to their large size and high elevation, or may reflect a higher likelihood of survival and successful reproduction due to the larger diversity of habitats are more environmentally stable ecosystems that these islands possess. Further, the overall directionality of migration was South-southwest against the dominant winds and currents. In comparing dispersal between the Common Cactus Finch and Medium Ground Finch, both species had similar migration rates but the Cactus Finch had approximately half the numbers of migrants due to lower effective populations sizes. Significant population structure in the Cactus Finch indicates potential for further speciation, while the Medium Ground Finch maintains cohesive gene flow across islands. These patterns shed light on the macroevolutionary patterns that drive diversification and speciation within a radiation of highly-volant taxa.