Corvid Evolution

Explaining the origin of biodiversity remains one of the major challenges of fundamental biological research. With the genomic revolution in full progress we are for the first time equipped with the necessary tools to investigate the genetic architecture of speciation at base-pair resolution. The Wolf lab uses corvid species of the genus Corvus as a model system applying a broad range of approaches including field work, experiments and large-scale genomic approaches. 

Central to the crow system is the phylogenetically independent recurrence of a pied colour-pattern in several species that stands in contrasts to the predominant all-black plumage in the clade. Building on the idea that colour polymorphism can promote speciation through sexual selection, we choose a number of black and pied species pairs that can be positioned along a time line representing different stages of the speciation process. This comparative framework is unrivalled in its setup and is uniquely suited to study the genetics of speciation across different stages of species divergence. It also provides a promising entry point to the fascinating theme of parallel evolution.


Current collaborations involve two UCEG partners. In conjunction with speciation work in flycatchers from the Ellegren lab, we can address the question of how genomic divergence proceeds through time in a comparative framework. The combination of transcriptomics and immunohistochemical analyses of feather follicles in cooperation with the Ahlberg lab help clarify the functional basis of colour differences in the clade.


Selected publications with subject relevance

Poelstra, J. W., Ellegren, H. & Wolf, J. B. W. 2013. An extensive candidate gene approach to speciation: diversity, divergence and linkage disequilibrium in candidate pigmentation genes across the European crow hybrid zone. Heredity, 111, 467–473.


Shafer, A. B. A. & Wolf, J. B. W. 2013. Widespread evidence for incipient ecological speciation: a meta-analysis of isolation-by-ecology. Ecology Letters, 16, 940–950.


Ellegren, H., Smeds, L., Burri, R., Olason, P. I., Backström, N., Kawakami, T., Künstner, A., Mäkinen, H., Nadachowska-Brzyska, K., Qvarnström, A., Uebbing, S. & Wolf, J. B. W. 2012. The genomic landscape of species divergence in Ficedula flycatchers. Nature, 491, 756–760.


Wolf, J. B. W., Bayer, T., Haubold, B., Schilhabel, M., Rosenstiel, P. & Tautz, D. 2010. Nucleotide divergence versus gene expression differentiation: comparative transcriptome sequencing in natural isolates from the carrion crow and its hybrid zone with the hooded crow. Molecular Ecology, 19, 162–175.


Wolf, J. B. W., Lindell, J. & Backstrom, N. 2010. Speciation genetics: current status and evolving approaches. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 365, 1717–1733.