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Congrains C, Carvalho A, Miranda E, Cumming G, Henry D, Manu S et al. (2016)
Genetic and paleomodelling evidence of the population expansion of the cattle egret Bubulcus ibis in Africa during the climatic oscillations of the Late Pleistocene
Journal of Avian Biology.
Increasing aridity during glacial periods produced the retraction of forests and the expansion of arid and semi-arid environments in Africa, with consequences for birds. Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a dispersive species that prefers semiarid environments and requires proximity to bodies of water. We expected that climatic oscillations led to the expansion of the range of the cattle egret during arid periods, such as the Last Maximum Glacial (LGM) and contraction of distribution during the Last Interglacial (LIG) period, resulting in contact of populations previously isolated. We investigated this hypothesis by evaluating the genetic structure and population history of 15 cattle egret breeding colonies located in West and South Africa using the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region, mtDNA ATPase 8 and 6, and an intron of nuclear gene transforming growth factor beta-2. Occurrence data and bioclimatic information were used to generate ecological niche models of three periods (present, LGM and LIG). We used the genetic and paleomodelling data to assess the responses of the cattle egret from Africa to the climatic oscillations during the late Pleistocene. Genetic data revealed low levels of genetic differentiation, signs of isolation-by-distance, as well as recent increases in effective population size that started during the LGM. The observed low genetic structure may be explained by recent colonization events due to the demographic expansion following the last glacial period and by dispersal capacity of this species. The paleomodels corroborated the expansion during the LGM, and a more restricted potential distribution during the LIG. Our findinds supports the hypothesis that the species range of the cattle egret expanded during arid periods and contracted during wet periods.