Quantifying the spatial genetic structure of highly vagile species of birds is important in predicting their degree of population demographic and genetic independence during changing environmental conditions, and in assessing their abundance and distribution. In the western Arctic, Lesser Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) provide an example useful for evaluating spatial population genetic structure and the relative contribution of male and female philopatry to breeding and wintering locales. We analyzed biparentally inherited microsatellite loci and maternally inherited mtDNA sequences from geese breeding at Wrangel Island (Russia) and Banks Island (Canada) to estimate gene flow among populations whose geographic overlap during breeding and winter differ. Significant differences in the frequencies of mtDNA haplotypes contrast with the homogeneity of allele frequencies for microsatellite loci. Coalescence simulations revealed high variability and asymmetry between males and females in rates and direction of gene flow between populations. Our results highlight the importance of wintering areas to demographic independence and spatial genetic structure of these populations. Male-mediated gene flow among the populations on northern Wrangel Island, southern Wrangel Island, and Banks Island has been substantial. A high rate of female-mediated gene flow from southern Wrangel Island to Banks Island suggests that population exchange can be achieved when populations winter in a common area. Conversely, when birds from different breeding populations do not share a common wintering area, the probability of population exchange is likely to be dramatically reduced. ?? The Cooper Ornithological Society 2011.
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Intercontinental gene flow among western arctic populations of lesser snow geese