Both natural selection and isolation by distance explain phenotypic divergence in bill size and body mass between South Australian little penguin colonies
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Morphological variation between populations of the same species can arise as a response to genetic variation, local environmental conditions, or a combination of both. In this study, I examined small-scale geographic variation in bill size and body mass in little penguins (Eudyptula minor) across five breeding colonies in South Australia separated by <150 km. To help understand patterns driving the differences, I investigated these variations in relation to environmental parameters (air temperature, sea surface temperature, and water depth) and geographic distances between the colonies. I found substantial morphological variation among the colonies for body mass and bill measurements (except bill length). Colonies further located from each other showed greater morphological divergence overall than adjacent colonies. In addition, phenotypic traits were somewhat correlated to environmental parameters. Birds at colonies surrounded by hotter sea surface temperatures were heavier with longer and larger bills. Birds with larger and longer bills were also found at colonies surrounded by shallower waters. Overall, the results suggest that both environmental factors (natural selection) and interpopulation distances (isolation by distance) are causes of phenotypic differentiation between South Australian little penguin colonies.
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