Epigenetics and the introduced populations of the house sparrow in Australia

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The relationship between genetic differentiation between populations and epigenetic variation (Fig from Sheldon et al 2018)

In our most recent paper, published today in Royal Society Open Science (see article here), we examine the extent to which DNA methylation is related to genetic variation across different populations in the three introduction clusters of the house sparrow in Australia. We found no support for the idea that epigenetic variation might compensate for a lack of genetic diversity in introduced populations. However, we did find that patterns of epigenetic variation are highly variable across populations within each of these clusters, rather than having shared similarity across clusters (as in genetic variation). This study is still one of relatively few that has examined  the patterns of epigenetic variation across a number of populations and contributes to our growing understanding of the role of epigenetic variation in ecology and evolution.

It is particularly timely that the study is published today, the last day at Macquarie for both Ellie Sheldon who is departing to work on a field project in the Kimberley region, and Sam Andrew, who is heading to Finland to work with Craig Primmer on his Endeavour Fellowship.

Sparrows from India?

SparrowMaletrimB&WSam’s first sparrow paper has just been published in the open access journal Avian Research, which means that it’s freely available (here). In our paper we have looked at the history of the house sparrow introduction into Australia in the 1860’s. A great effort was made to introduce sparrows in an effort to use them to fight the insect pests that were perceived to be causing significant damage to the ability of the farms to feed the early colonists. One of the most surprising findings of the historical research that we conducted was that although it is commonly believed that the sparrows came out from England, we found clear evidence that the first birds to arrive and breed in Australia in fact came from India.

Nest boxes off to Armidale

SparrowNestboxes

Nestboxes for house sparrows are leaving today on their way to Armidale where they’ll be erected at a number of properties around this inland city. Hopefully they will provide welcome homes for house sparrows that will be studied as part of our research into how birds are effected by climate. The house sparrow was introduced into Australia in the 1860’s and has become widely established across a range of different climates.

The relatively high altitude of Armidale and it’s position to the west of the dividing range provides a very different climate from most of the coastal cities in Eastern Australia.