Understanding the cryptic introgression and mixed ancestry of Red Junglefowl in India
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Red Junglefowls (RJFs), the wild progenitor of modern day chickens (DCs), are believed to be in genetic endangerment due to introgression of domestic genes through opportunistic matings with domestic or feral chickens. Previous studies from India reported rare hybridization of RJFs in the wild. However, RJF population genetic structure, pattern of gene flow and their admixture with DC populations are poorly understood at the landscape level. We conducted this study with a large sample size, covering the predicted natural distribution range of RJFs in India. We documented strong evidence of directional gene flow from DCs to free-ranging wild RJFs, with the Northeastern RJF population exhibiting the most genetic variants in their nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, indicating it to be the ancestral population from which early radiation may have occurred. The results provide evidence that landscape features do not act as a barrier to gene flow and the distribution pattern could not be explored due to physical sharing or exchange of wild birds in the past when forests were continuous across RJF range in India.
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