Probing the Puzzling Plumage Patterns of White Wagtails

Avian Hybrids

How can we explain plumage patterns in white wagtails subspecies?

Wagtail taxonomy is a mess. Numerous subspecies have been described based on morphological differences, but they are not supported by genetic data. A recent study in Journal of Evolutionary Biology took another look at several subspecies of the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). Could they explain the mismatch between plumage and genetics?

Six Subspecies

Georgy Semenov and his colleagues sampled six of the nine recognized subspecies – alba, personata, baicalensis, ocularis, lugens and leucopsis – and sequenced 17 microsatellites. In line with previous studies, the genetic analyses revealed little population structure and weak divergence among the subspecies.

MotacillaAlbaDistribution.svg Distribution of White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) subspecies (from

Puzzling Plumage Patterns

How can ornithologists explain this peculiar pattern of clear morphological differences without genetic differentiation? Recent genomic studies have shown that a small fraction of the genome…

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