Quantifying population genetic heterogeneity within nonbreeding aggregations can inform our understanding of patterns of site fidelity, migratory connectivity, and gene flow between breeding and nonbreeding areas. However, characterizing mechanisms that contribute to heterogeneity, such as migration and dispersal, is required before site fidelity and migratory connectivity can be assessed accurately. We studied nonbreeding groups of Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) molting on Kodiak Island, Alaska, from 2005 to 2007, using banding data to assess rates of recapture, mitochondrial (mt) DNA to determine natal area, and nuclear microsatellite genotypes to assess dispersal. Using baseline information from differentiated mtDNA haplogroups across North America, we were able to assign individuals to natal regions and document population genetic heterogeneity within and among molting groups. Band-recovery and DNA data suggest that both migration from and dispersal among natal areas contribute to admixed groups of males molting on Kodiak Island. A lack of differentiation in the Common Merganser's nuclear, bi-parentally inherited DNA, observed across North America, implies that dispersal can mislead genetic assessments of migratory connectivity and assignments of nonbreeding individuals to breeding areas. Thus multiple and independent data types are required to account for such behaviors before accurate assessments of migratory connectivity can be made.
Additional publication details
Mechanisms of population genetic heterogeneity among molting common mergansers on Kodiak Island, Alaska: implications for assessments of migratory connectivity