Avian Genomics

White-eyes (Zosterops, ca. 100 species) are the passerine birds with the fastest rate of diversification documented to date, and have colonized more islands worldwide than any other group in the order. On each island, Zosterops species rapidly evolve new phenotypes (including dispersal ability) and are thus excellent model systems for genomic and biogeographical studies on the origins of insular species diversity.

I have focused on three endemic species from the small island of Lifou in the archipelago of New Caledonia, South Pacific Ocean. The three species occur in sympatry on the island, are the result of three independent colonizations and differ significantly in body size, with one species being small (Z. lateralis melanops), other intermediate (Z. minutus) and the other large (Z. inornatus).

Using next-generation sequencing methods, I have sequenced and assembled de novo the complete genomes of three species, in collaboration with Prof. Vincent Savolainen (Imperial College London) and the local association Waco Me Wela (Loyalty Islands).

Using the newly assembled genomes, in combination with restriction-site associated (RAD) population genomic analyses, we have been searching for genes associated with phenotypic evolution following island colonization, between-island dispersal, and allopatric speciation

The results of this work were published in GBE in a paper entitled "The genome of the "Great Speciator" provides insights into bird diversification".

Zosterops minutus (Small Lifou white-eye, photo by O. Hebert, http://oh-photo.melimala.nc)

Zosterops lateralis melanops (Silvereye, endemic subspecies from Lifou, photo by O. Hebert, http://oh-photo.melimala.nc)

Zosterops inornatus (Large Lifou white-eye, photo by O. Hebert, http://oh-photo.melimala.nc)