Migration is driven by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, but many questions remain about those drivers. Potential interactions between genetic and environmental variants associated with different migratory phenotypes are rarely the focus of study. We pair low coverage whole genome resequencing with a de novo genome assembly to examine population structure, inbreeding, and the environmental factors associated with genetic differentiation between migratory and resident breeding phenotypes in a species of conservation concern, the western burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea). Our analyses reveal a dichotomy in gene flow depending on whether the population is resident or migratory, with the former being genetically structured and the latter exhibiting no signs of structure. Among resident populations, we observed significantly higher genetic differentiation, significant isolation-by-distance, and significantly elevated inbreeding. Among migratory breeding groups, on the other hand, we observed lower genetic differentiation, no isolation-by-distance, and substantially lower inbreeding. Using genotype–environment association analysis, we find significant evidence for relationships between migratory phenotypes (i.e., migrant versus resident) and environmental variation associated with cold temperatures during the winter and barren, open habitats. In the regions of the genome most differentiated between migrants and residents, we find significant enrichment for genes associated with the metabolism of fats. This may be linked to the increased pressure on migrants to process and store fats more efficiently in preparation for and during migration. Our results provide a significant contribution toward understanding the evolution of migratory behavior and vital insight into ongoing conservation and management efforts for the western burrowing owl.
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Barr, Kelly; Bossu, Christen M.; Bay, Rachel A.; Anderson, Eric C.; Belthoff, James; Trulio, Lynne A.; Chromczak, Debra; Wisinski, Colleen L.; Smith, Thomas B.; and Ruegg, Kristen C.. (2023). "Genetic and Environmental Drivers of Migratory Behavior in Western Burrowing Owls and Implications for Conservation and Management". Evolutionary Applications, 16(12), 1889-1900. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.13600