Hierarchical spatial genetic structure of Common Eiders (Somateria Mollissima) breeding along a migratory corridor

Sarah A. Sonsthagen, Sandy L. Talbot, Richard B. Lanctot, Kim T. Scribner, Kevin G. McCracken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Documentation of spatial genetic discordance among breeding populations of Arctic-nesting avian species is important, because anthropogenic change is altering environmental linkages at micro- and macrogeographic scales. We estimated levels of population subdivision within Pacific Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum) breeding on 12 barrier islands in the western Beaufort Sea, Alaska, using molecular markers and capture-mark-recapture (CMR) data. Common Eider populations were genetically structured on a microgeographic scale. Regional comparisons between populations breeding on island groups separated by 90 km (Mikkelsen Bay and Simpson Lagoon) revealed structuring at 14 microsatellite loci (FST = 0.004, P < 0.01), a nuclear intron (FST = 0.022, P = 0.02), and mitochondrial DNA (ΦST = 0.082, P < 0.05). The CMR data (n = 34) did not indicate female dispersal between island groups. Concordance between genetic and CMR data indicates that females breeding in the western Beaufort Sea are strongly philopatric to island groups rather than to a particular island. Despite the apparent high site fidelity of females, coalescence-based models of gene flow suggest that asymmetrical western dispersal occurs between island groups and is likely mediated by Mikkelsen Bay females stopping early on spring migration at Simpson Lagoon to breed. Alternatively, late-arriving females may be predisposed to nest in Simpson Lagoon because of the greater availability and wider distribution of nesting habitat. Our results indicate that genetic discontinuities, mediated by female philopatry, can exist at microgeographic scales along established migratory corridors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)744-754
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Barrier islands
  • Beaufort Sea
  • Common Eider
  • Dispersal
  • Gene flow
  • Microsatellites
  • MtDNA
  • Philopatry
  • Somateria mollissima
  • Spatial genetic structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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