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

Released: 2012
Welch, A. J., R. C. Fleischer, H. F. James, A. E. Wiley, P. H. Ostrom, J. Adams, F. Duvall, N. Holmes, D. Hu, J. Penniman, and K. A. Swindle. 2012. Population divergence and gene flow in an endangered and highly mobile seabird. Heredity. 1-10.

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. Populationspecific
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.

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Welch_etal_2012_BurgMartinPetrelOverview.pdf118,550 Bytes
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This product is associated with the following project:
Summary of Seabird Studies at WERC

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