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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Sex− and species−biased gene flow in a spotted eagle hybrid zone

Niclas Backström1 and Ülo Väli2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

2 Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Riia 181, 51014 Tartu, Estonia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:100  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-100

Published: 14 April 2011



Recent theoretical and empirical work points toward a significant role for sex-chromosome linked genes in the evolution of traits that induce reproductive isolation and for traits that evolve under influence of sexual selection. Empirical studies including recently diverged (Pleistocene), short-lived avian species pairs with short generation times have found that introgression occurs on the autosomes but not on the Z-chromosome. Here we study genetic differentiation and gene flow in the long-lived greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga) and lesser spotted eagle (A. pomarina), two species with comparatively long generation times.


Our data suggest that there is a directional bias in migration rates between hybridizing spotted eagles in eastern Europe. We find that a model including post divergence gene flow fits our data best for both autosomal and Z-chromosome linked loci but, for the Z-chromosome, the rate is reduced in the direction from A. pomarina to A. clanga.


The fact that some introgression still occurs on the Z-chromosome between these species suggests that the differentiation process is in a more premature phase in our study system than in previously studied avian species pairs and that could be explained by a shorter divergence time and/or a longer average generation time in the spotted eagles. The results are in agreement with field observations and provide further insight into the role of sex-linked loci for the build-up of barriers to gene flow among diverging populations and species.