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Phenotypic differentiation between populations is thought to occur mainly at spatial scales where gene-flow is restricted and selection regimes differ. However, if gene flow is nonrandom, dispersal may reinforce, rather than counteract, evolutionary differentiation, meaning that differences occurring over small scales might have a genetic basis. The purpose of this study was to determine the cause of differences in mean phenotype between two parts of a population of great tits Parus major, separated by <3 km. We conducted a partial cross-fostering experiment between two contrasting parts of this population to separate genetic and environmental sources of variation, and to test for gene-environment interaction. We found strong environmental effects on nestling size, mass and condition index, with nestlings reared in a low density part of the population being larger, heavier and in better condition, than those in a high density part, irrespective of their origin. In addition, we found smaller, but significant, differences in nestling condition and shape associated with the areas that birds originated from, suggesting the presence of genetic differences between parts of this population. There was no evidence of gene-environment interaction for any character. This experiment is thus consistent with previous analyses suggesting that differences between parts of this population had evolved recently, apparently due to phenotype-dependent dispersal, and indicates that population differentiation can be maintained over small spatial scales despite extensive dispersal.

Original publication




Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date





176 - 183


Animals, Ankle, Body Constitution, Body Size, Body Weights and Measures, England, Environment, Genetics, Population, Models, Genetic, Passeriformes, Phenotype, Population Density