Using maximum likelihood estimators (in genetic stock identification), we used genetic markers to evaluate the utility of 2 morphological measures (culmen length and plumage color) to correctly identify groups of hunter-harvested dusky (Branta canadensis occidentalis) and dusky-like Canada geese on the wintering grounds within the Pacific Flyway. Significant levels of genetic differentiation were observed across all sampled breeding sites for both nuclear microsatellite loci and mtDNA when analyzed at the sequence level. The ability to discriminate among geese from these sites using genetic markers was further demonstrated using computer simulations. We estimated contributions from the Copper River Delta, the primary breeding area of dusky Canada geese, to groups of hunter-harvested geese classified as dusky Canada geese on the basis of morphology as 50.6 ?? 10.1(SE)% for females and 50.3 ?? 13.0% for males. We also estimated that 16 ?? 8.1% of females classified as dusky Canada geese on the basis of morphology originated from Middleton Island, Alaska; a locale currently managed as a subpopulation of dusky Canada geese, even though the majority of geese from this area possess a unique mtdna haplotype not found on the Copper River Delta. The use of culmen length and plumage color to identify the origin of breeding populations in the harvest provides conservative criteria for management of dusky Canada geese as individuals of other breeding populations are misassigned as dusky Canada geese and birds of the lighter-plumaged dusky-like group did not appear to originate from, breeding sites of the dusky Canada goose. Our analyses demonstrate that genetic markers can accurately estimate the proportion of genetically differentiated areas that comprise an admixed group, but they also raise questions about the management scale of Pacific Flyway Canada geese (e.g., at the subspecies or breeding population level) and the use of morphological and genetic characteristics to monitor the harvest of different populations within admixed wintering flocks.
Additional publication details
A genetic evaluation of morphology used to identify harvested Canada geese