Testing the role of Baja California generating biodiversity: A test case characterizing the population genetic structure of Cassin's auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus)

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Wallace, Sarah
seabird , Baja California , gene flow , conservation , Cassin's auklet , population genetic structure
Characterizing the population genetic structure of a species can provide insight into isolating effects of local adaptation and genetic drift, and homogenizing effects of gene flow. The relative interplay between gene flow and genetic drift can indicate whether multiple conservation units are needed to preserve biodiversity. Baja California, Mexico is a biodiversity hotspot where many individuals are genetically differentiated from conspecific individuals breeding elsewhere. Cassin’s auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus), a zooplanktivorous seabird, breeds in colonies along the Pacific coast of North America. One subspecies, P. a. australe, is described from Baja California and another, P. a. aleuticus, is described from the rest of its range to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Many of the colonies throughout its range have been declining in numbers likely as a result of decreases in food availability in cold-water upwellings along the coast. The mitochondrial control region and eleven nuclear microsatellites were analyzed using programs based on coalescent and Bayesian theory to determine how the southern subspecies compares genetically to the main subspecies. First, population genetic structure was characterized throughout Cassin’s auklet’s breeding range using pairwise genetic differentiation indices, hierarchical analysis of variance, statistical parsimony and Bayesian clustering methods. The two subspecies were genetically differentiated but individuals breeding in the Channel Islands were more genetically similar to P. a. australe individuals. Population genetic differentiation was not evident within the two genetic groups. Second, gene flow between the two genetic groups was estimated using coalescent and Bayesian methods. Significant gene flow was estimated from the northern group (Aleutian Islands to Southeast Farallon Islands) into the southern group (Channel Islands to San Benito Island) but not from the southern group into the northern group since the time of divergence, possibly as a result of the non-breeding distribution. Results show that the two genetic populations diverged recently and the populations have experienced a recent population change in size. Restrictions in home range and foraging range may cause population genetic differentiation, resulting in two distinct management units. Genetic differentiation of the southern population provides support for Baja California and southern California being a biodiversity hotspot.
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