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Mitochondrial DNA reveals genetic structure within the Atlantic but not Pacific populations of a holarctic seabird, the Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla



1Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada *(0as69@queensu.ca)
2Environment and Climate Change Canada, 401 Burrard St, Vancouver, BC V6C 3S5, Canada
3Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, P. O. Box 6227, Sackville, NB E4L 1G6, Canada

Received 12 November 2018, accepted 15 May 2019

Date Published: 2019/10/15
Date Online: 2019/08/26

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SAUVE D., PATIRANA A., CHARDINE J.W. & FRIESEN V.L. 2019. Mitochondrial DNA reveals genetic structure within the Atlantic but not Pacific populations of a holarctic seabird, the Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla. Marine Ornithology 47: 199-208.

Keywords: coalescence, gene flow, mitochondrial control region, historical demography, mtDNA, Pleistocene glaciation


To predict evolutionary processes, such as speciation and local adaptation, we need to understand the mechanisms causing genetic differentiation of populations. We used mitochondrial control region sequence variation to investigate the genetic structure within and between Atlantic and Pacific populations of Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa t. tridactyla and R. t. pollicaris, respectively). We predicted that genetic divergence of these populations, as in other northern hemisphere seabird species, might have been caused by glacial vicariance in the late Pleistocene. Further, because of regional differences in the morphology of kittiwakes, and the hypothesized historical vicariance, we predicted that genetic structure would exist within Atlantic, but not Pacific, populations. Population genetic and phylogenetic analyses of 756 base pairs of control region sequence for 398 kittiwakes indicated that Atlantic and Pacific populations are genetically differentiated from one another. Phylogenetic analyses indicated historical divergence of two mtDNA clades within the Pacific population and four mtDNA clades within the Atlantic population. Population genetic analyses indicated that colonies within the Atlantic were strongly differentiated from one another, which could be explained by restrictions in contemporary gene flow and historical fragmentation in historical refugia. Population genetic analyses provided little evidence for genetic structure in the Pacific population, which we attributed to longer time since vicariance allowing more migration between colonies. Results agree with current subspecies designations of Atlantic and Pacific populations.


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