Landscape and Climatic Variations Shaped Secondary Contacts amid Barn Owls of the Western Palearctic

Tristan Cumer, Ana Paula Machado, Guillaume Dumont, Vasileios Bontzorlos, Renato Ceccherelli, Motti Charter, Klaus Dichmann, Nicolaos Kassinis, Rui Lourenço, Francesca Manzia, Hans Dieter Martens, Laure Prévost, Marko Rakovic, Inês Roque, Felipe Siverio, Alexandre Roulin, Jérôme Goudet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The combined actions of climatic variations and landscape barriers shape the history of natural populations. When organisms follow their shifting niches, obstacles in the landscape can lead to the splitting of populations, on which evolution will then act independently. When two such populations are reunited, secondary contact occurs in a broad range of admixture patterns, from narrow hybrid zones to the complete dissolution of lineages. A previous study suggested that barn owls colonized the Western Palearctic after the last glaciation in a ring-like fashion around the Mediterranean Sea, and conjectured an admixture zone in the Balkans. Here, we take advantage of whole-genome sequences of 94 individuals across the Western Palearctic to reveal the complex history of the species in the region using observational and modeling approaches. Even though our results confirm that two distinct lineages colonized the region, one in Europe and one in the Levant, they suggest that it predates the last glaciation and identify a secondary contact zone between the two in Anatolia. We also show that barn owls recolonized Europe after the glaciation from two distinct glacial refugia: a previously identified western one in Iberia and a new eastern one in Italy. Both glacial lineages now communicate via eastern Europe, in a wide and permeable contact zone. This complex history of populations enlightens the taxonomy of Tyto alba in the region, highlights the key role played by mountain ranges and large water bodies as barriers and illustrates the power of population genomics in uncovering intricate demographic patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermsab343
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 7 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.


  • demographic modeling
  • glacial refugium
  • haplotypes
  • population genomics
  • postglacial recolonization
  • whole-genome resequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


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