We measured genetic differentiation among species of large white-headed gulls using mitochondrial (cytochrome b haplotypes) and nuclear (microsatellites) markers. Additional information was added using a previously published study of allozymes on the same species. Levels of differentiation among species at nuclear markers are much lower than would be expected for avian species and are not concordant with the level of differentiation in mitochondrial markers. This discrepancy is best explained by a combination of recent species origin and interspecific gene flow after speciation. The data also suggest that female-mediated gene flow is reduced compared to male-mediated gene flow, either due to behavioral bias or due to stronger counterselection of female hybrids in accordance with Haldane's rule for ZW species. Whatever the reasons for the low differentiation of the species' nuclear gene pools, the extensive similarity of their nuclear genome demonstrates that selection on a limited number of characters is an important factor in establishing and maintaining clear-cut phenotypic differences between these species and suggests that the number of loci involved in this process is quite low. This situation may not be exceptional in birds, indeed a number of studies have found similarly low level of differentiation in nuclear markers among congeneric bird species, although usually based on a single set of markers. Because hybridization is a widespread phenomenon in birds, many of these cases might be due to interspecific gene flow.
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Vol. 57 • No. 12