Information on population connectivity throughout the annual cycle has become more crucial, because populations of many migratory birds are in decline. One such species is the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), which inhabits early-successional forests in eastern North America. Although band recoveries have proved useful for dividing populations of this game bird species into an Eastern Region and Central Region for management purposes, these data do not provide enough detail to determine the breeding population of origin of birds recovered on stopover and wintering areas. To obtain more fine-scale data, we undertook a phylogeographic study of American Woodcock populations throughout their primary breeding range in the eastern United States and Canada using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from the hypervariable control region I (CRI) and ND6 gene. Despite high haplotype diversity, nucleotide diversity was low and there was no phylogeographic structure among American Woodcock populations across the species range, with birds from many states and provinces in both management regions sharing identical haplotypes. Results suggest recent or ongoing gene flow among populations, with asymmetric movement of birds between migration flyways. As has been demonstrated for several other avian species in North America, American Woodcock appear to have undergone a rapid population expansion following the late Pleistocene glacial retreat. Thus, a combination of historical demographic factors and recent or ongoing gene flow mask any population structure based on mtDNA that might accrue from philopatry to breeding areas observed in studies of marked birds.
Additional publication details
Phylogeography of the American woodcock (Scolopax minor): Are management units based on band recovery data reflected in genetically based management units?