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Data from: Evolution of wing length and melanin-based coloration in insular populations of a cosmopolitan raptor


ROMANO, ANDREA (2021), Data from: Evolution of wing length and melanin-based coloration in insular populations of a cosmopolitan raptor, Dryad, Dataset,


Aim. Insular populations face different conditions than those living on continents, thus resulting in the evolution of typical insular phenotypes, like smaller body sizes or reduced colourations. However, the generality of the so-called “island rule” has been questioned, and intraspecific analyses on the effects of insularity on cosmopolitan species are lacking. Here, we tested the predictions of the island rule in the cosmopolitan common barn owl group.

Location. World.

Taxon. Barn owl species complex.

Methods. We compared wing and bill length, as well as melanin-based plumage traits, between thousands of insular and continental barn owls living in the Afro-Palearctic region (T. alba), in the Americas (T. furcata), and in Australasia (T. javanica). We also tested whether the difference between insular and continental populations in these phenotypic traits varies among islands/archipelagos of different size and isolation.

Results. In all the regions, we found differences between insular and continental owls in all the traits but bill length, with insular populations convergently evolving shorter wings and paler colourations. In addition, the difference in wing size between insular and continental populations is particularly marked on small and remote island systems, while melanin-based traits are less expressed especially on large islands.

Main conclusions. We thus provide unprecedented evidence that insular conditions drive predictable phenotypic variations, even at the intraspecific level in different biogeographic regions, possibly promoting speciation events. In addition, our results also indicate that selective advantages of a given colouration can arise as the by‐product of positive selection on individuals displaying phenotypic traits which can favour island colonization and are genetically linked to melanisation.