Female-biased dispersal and non-random gene flow of MC1R variants do not result in a migration load in barn owls.


Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Biophore Building, CH-1015, Lausanne, Switzerland. [Email]


Non-random gene flow is a widely neglected force in evolution and ecology. This genotype-dependent dispersal is difficult to assess, yet can impact the genetic variation of natural populations and their fitness. In this work, we demonstrate a high immigration rate of barn owls (Tyto alba) inside a Swiss population surveyed during 15 years. Using ten microsatellite loci as an indirect method to characterize dispersal, two-third of the genetic tests failed to detect a female-biased dispersal, and Monte Carlo simulations confirmed a low statistical power to detect sex-biased dispersal in case of high dispersal rate of both sexes. The capture-recapture data revealed a female-biased dispersal associated with an excess of heterozygote for the melanocortin-1 receptor gene (MC1R), which is responsible for their ventral rufous coloration. Thus, female homozygotes for the MC1RWHITE allele might be negatively selected during dispersal. Despite the higher immigration of females that are heterozygote at MC1R, non-random gene flow should not lead to a migration load regarding this gene because we did not detect an effect of MC1R on survival and reproductive success in our local population. The present study highlights the usefulness of using multiple methods to correctly decrypt dispersal and gene flow. Moreover, despite theoretical expectations, we show that non-random dispersal of particular genotypes does not necessarily lead to migration load in recipient populations.