Royal Society Publishing


Widespread species that are morphologically uniform may be likely to harbour cryptic genetic variation. Common ravens (Corvus corax) have an extensive range covering nearly the entire Northern Hemisphere, but show little discrete phenotypic variation. We obtained tissue samples from throughout much of this range and collected mitochondrial sequence and nuclear microsatellite data. Our study revealed a deep genetic break between ravens from the western United States and ravens from throughout the rest of the world. These two groups, the ‘California clade’ and the ‘Holarctic clade’ are well supported and over 4% divergent in mitochondrial coding sequence. Microsatellites also reveal significant differentiation between these two groups. Ravens from Minnesota, Maine and Alaska are more similar to ravens from Asia and Europe than they are to ravens from California. The two clades come in contact over a huge area of the western United States, with mixtures of the two mitochondrial groups present in Washington, Idaho and California. In addition, the restricted range Chihuahuan raven (Corvus cryptoleucus) of the south–west United States and Mexico is genetically nested within the paraphyletic common raven. Our findings suggest that the common raven may have formerly consisted of two allopatric groups that may be in the process of remerging.

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