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Fission and fusion in island taxa – serendipity, or something to be expected?

Emerson, Brent C., Faria, Christiana M. A.
Molecular ecology 2014 v.23 no.21 pp. 5132-5134
evolution, genotyping, indigenous species, islands, microsatellite repeats, mitochondrial DNA, sequence analysis, tortoises
A well‐used metaphor for oceanic islands is that they act as ‘natural laboratories’ for the study of evolution. But how can islands or archipelagos be considered analogues of laboratories for understanding the evolutionary process itself? It is not necessarily the case that just because two or more related species occur on an island or archipelago, somehow, this can help us understand more about their evolutionary history. But in some cases, it can. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Garrick et al. () use population‐level sampling within closely related taxa of Galapagos giant tortoises to reveal a complex demographic history of the species Chelonoidis becki – a species endemic to Isabela Island, and geographically restricted to Wolf Volcano. Using microsatellite genotyping and mitochondrial DNA sequencing, they provide a strong case for C. becki being derived from C. darwini from the neighbouring island of Santiago. But the interest here is that colonization did not happen only once. Garrick et al. () reveal C. becki to be the product of a double colonization event, and their data reveal these two founding lineages to be now fusing back into one. Their results are compelling and add to a limited literature describing the evolutionary consequences of double colonization events. Here, we look at the broader implications of the findings of Garrick et al. () and suggest genomic admixture among multiple founding populations may be a characteristic feature within insular taxa.