Document Type


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Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Division of Forestry and Natural Resources


Hybridization is common in bird populations but can be challenging for management, especially if one of the two parent species is of greater conservation concern than the other. King rails (Rallus elegans) and clapper rails (R. crepitans) are two marsh bird species with similar morphologies, behaviors, and overlapping distributions. The two species are found along a salinity gradient with the king rail in freshwater marshes and the clapper in estuarine marshes. However, this separation is not absolute; they are occasionally sympatric, and there are reports of interbreeding. In Virginia, USA, both king and clapper rails are identified by the state as Species of Greater Conservation Need, although clappers are thought to be more abundant and king rails have a higher priority ranking. We used a mitochondrial DNA marker and 13 diagnostic nuclear single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to identify species, classify the degree of introgression, and explore the evolutionary history of introgression in two putative clapper rail focal populations along a salinity gradient in coastal Virginia. Genetic analyses revealed cryptic introgression with site‐specific rates of admixture. We identified a pattern of introgression where clapper rail alleles predominate in brackish marshes. These results suggest clapper rails may be displacing king rails in Virginia coastal waterways, most likely as a result of ecological selection. As introgression can result in various outcomes from outbreeding depression to local adaptation, continued monitoring of these populations would allow further exploration of hybrid fitness and inform conservation management.

Source Citation

Coster, S. S., Welsh, A. B., Costanzo, G., Harding, S. R., Anderson, J. T., McRae, S. B., & Katzner, T. E. (2018). Genetic analyses reveal cryptic introgression in secretive marsh bird populations. Ecology and Evolution, 8(19), 9870–9879.


This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2018 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This article received support from the WVU Libraries' Open Access Author Fund.



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