Morph-dependent fitness and directional change of morph frequencies over time in a Dutch population of Common buzzards Buteo buteo

Elena Frederika Kappers, Christiaan de Vries, Anneke Alberda, Sylvia Kuhn, Mihai Valcu, Bart Kempenaers*, Christiaan Both

*Corresponding author for this work

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How genetic polymorphisms are maintained in a population is a key question in evolutionary ecology. Previous work on a plumage colour polymorphism in the common buzzard Buteo buteo suggested heterozygote advantage as the mechanism maintaining the co-existence of three morphs (light, intermediate and dark). We took advantage of 20 years of life history data collected in a Dutch population to replicate earlier studies on the relationship between colour morph and fitness in this species. We examined differences between morphs in adult apparent survival, breeding success, annual number of fledglings produced and cumulative reproductive success. We found that cumulative reproductive success differed among morphs, with the intermediate morph having highest fitness. We also found assortative mating for colour morph, whereby assortative pairs were more likely to produce offspring and had longer-lasting pair bonds than disassortative pairs. Over the 20-year study period, the proportion of individuals with an intermediate morph increased. This apparent evolutionary change did not just arise from selection on individual phenotypes, but also from fitness benefits of assortative mating. The increased frequency of intermediates might also be due to immigration or drift. We hypothesize that genetic variation is maintained through spatial variation in selection pressures. Further studies should investigate morph-dependent dispersal behaviour and habitat choice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1306–1315
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number9
Early online date6-Jul-2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2020

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