Genetic structure of the Common Eider in the western Aleutian islands prior to fox eradication

Sarah A. Sonsthagen, Sandra L. Talbot, Robert E. Wilson, Margaret R. Petersen, Jeffrey C. Williams, G. Vernon Byrd, Kevin G. McCracken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Since the late 18th century bird populations residing in the Aleutian Archipelago have been greatly reduced by introduced arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus). We analyzed data from microsatellite, nuclear intron, and mitochondrial (mtDNA) loci to examine the spatial genetic structure, demography, and gene flow among four Aleutian Island populations of the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) much reduced by introduced foxes. In mtDNA, we fou nd high levels of genetic st r ucture within and between island groups (ΦST = 0.643), but we found no population subdivision in microsatellites or nuclear introns. Differences in genetic structure between the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes are consistent with the Common Eider's breeding and winter biology, as females are highly philopatric and males disperse. Nevertheless, significant differences between islands in the mtDNA of males and marginal significance (P = 0.07) in the Z-linked locus Smo1 suggest that males may also have some level of fidelity to island groups. Severe reduction of populations by the fox, coupled with females' high philopatry, may have left the genetic signature of a bottleneck effect, resulting in the high levels of genetic differentiation observed in mtDNA (ΦST = 0.460-0.807) between islands only 440 km apart. Reestablishment of the Common Eider following the fox's eradication was likely through recruitment from within the islands and bolstered by dispersal from neighboring islands, as suggested by the lack of genetic structure and asymmetry in gene flow between Attu and the other Near Islands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-39
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Aleutian Islands
  • Common Eider
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic structure
  • Somateria mollissima

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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