University of Oulu

Rönkä, N., Pakanen, VM., Pauliny, A. et al. Genetic differentiation in an endangered and strongly philopatric, migrant shorebird. BMC Ecol Evo 21, 125 (2021).

Genetic differentiation in an endangered and strongly philopatric, migrant shorebird

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Author: Rönkä, Nelli1; Pakanen, Veli-Matti1,2; Pauliny, Angela2;
Organizations: 1Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 3000, 90014, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, P.O. Box 463, 405 30, Gothenburg, Sweden
3Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, 20014, Turku, Finland
4Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa
5Environmental Agency, Valtakatu 11, 28100, Pori, Finland
6Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Kreutzwaldi 5, 51014, Tartu, Estonia
7OÜ Xenus, Koguva, 94724, Muhu Island, Saare, Estonia
8V. Vedsted Byvej 32, Vester Vedsted, 6760, Ribe, Denmark
9The Helsinki Lab of Ornithology, Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki, 00014, Helsinki, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.5 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-07-27


Background: Populations living in fragmented habitats may suffer from loss of genetic variation and reduced between-patch dispersal, which are processes that can result in genetic differentiation. This occurs frequently in species with reduced mobility, whereas genetic differentiation is less common among mobile species such as migratory birds. The high dispersal capacity in the latter species usually allows for gene flow even in fragmented landscapes. However, strongly philopatric behaviour can reinforce relative isolation and the degree of genetic differentiation. The Southern Dunlin (Calidris alpina schinzii) is a philopatric, long-distance migratory shorebird and shows reduced dispersal between isolated breeding patches. The endangered population of the Southern Dunlin breeding at the Baltic Sea has suffered from habitat deterioration and fragmentation of coastal meadows. We sampled DNA across the entire population and used 12 polymorphic microsatellite loci to examine whether the environmental changes have resulted in genetic structuring and loss of variation.

Results: We found a pattern of isolation-by-distance across the whole Baltic population and genetic differentiation between local populations, even within the southern Baltic. Observed heterozygosity was lower than expected throughout the range and internal relatedness values were positive indicating inbreeding.

Conclusions: Our results provide long-term, empirical evidence for the theoretically expected links between habitat fragmentation, population subdivision, and gene flow. They also demonstrate a rare case of genetic differentiation between populations of a long-distance migratory species. The Baltic Southern Dunlin differs from many related shorebird species that show near panmixia, reflecting its philopatric life history and the reduced connectivity of its breeding patches. The results have important implications as they suggest that reduced connectivity of breeding habitats can threaten even long-distance migrants if they show strong philopatry during breeding. The Baltic Southern Dunlin warrants urgent conservation efforts that increase functional connectivity and gene flow between breeding areas.

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Series: BMC ecology and evolution
ISSN: 2730-7182
ISSN-E: 2730-7182
ISSN-L: 2730-7182
Volume: 21
Article number: 125
DOI: 10.1186/s12862-021-01855-0
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology
Funding: Open access funding provided by University of Gothenburg. This research was funded by the Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Oulu, Finland (NR), Emil Aaltonen foundation (NR and VMP), Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth foundation (NR), the University of Oulu Scholarship Foundation (NR), the Academy of Finland (128384; KK and 278759; VMP), The Finnish Foundation for Nature Conservation (VMP), Kone Foundation (VMP), Tauno Tönning Foundation (VMP), Finnish Cultural Foundation (VMP) and the Estonian Environmental Board (HP). The study was also supported by Formas (21.5/2002–1037, 217–2005-817 and 215–2009-463; DB), funding from Oscar och Lili Lamms Minne (FO2009-0007 and FO2012-0039; AP), Carl Tryggers Stiftelse (CTS 09:294, AP), Stiftelsen Olle Engkvist Byggmästare (DB), as well as by the County Administration Board of Halland, Sweden (AP and DB).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 128384
Detailed Information: 128384 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
278759 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
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