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Population divergence and gene flow in an endangered and highly mobile seabird

March 31, 2012

Seabirds are highly vagile and can disperse up to thousands of kilometers, making it difficult to identify the factors that promote isolation between populations. The endemic Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) is one such species. Today it is endangered, and known to breed only on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Lanai and Kauai. Historical records indicate that a large population formerly bred on Molokai as well, but this population has recently been extirpated. Given the great dispersal potential of these petrels, it remains unclear if populations are genetically distinct and which factors may contribute to isolation between them. We sampled petrels from across their range, including individuals from the presumably extirpated Molokai population. We sequenced 524 bp of mitochondrial DNA, 741 bp from three nuclear introns, and genotyped 18 microsatellite loci in order to examine the patterns of divergence in this species and to investigate the potential underlying mechanisms. Both mitochondrial and nuclear data sets indicated significant genetic differentiation among all modern populations, but no differentiation was found between historic samples from Molokai and modern birds from Lanai. Population-specific nonbreeding distribution and strong natal philopatry may reduce gene flow between populations. However, the lack of population structure between extirpated Molokai birds and modern birds on Lanai indicates that there was substantial gene flow between these populations and that petrels may be able to overcome barriers to dispersal prior to complete extirpation. Hawaiian petrel populations could be considered distinct management units, however, the dwindling population on Hawaii may require translocation to prevent extirpation in the near future.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title Population divergence and gene flow in an endangered and highly mobile seabird
DOI 10.1038/hdy.2012.7
Authors A. J. Welch, R. C. Fleischer, H. F. James, A. E. Wiley, P. H. Ostrom, J. Adams, F. Duvall, N. Holmes, D. Hu, J. Penniman, K. A. Swindle
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Heredity
Index ID 70038516
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center