Birds employ numerous strategies to cope with seasonal fluctuations in high-quality habitat availability. Long distance migration is a common tactic; however, partial migration is especially common among broadly distributed species. Under partial migration systems, a portion of a species migrates, whereas the remainder inhabits breeding grounds year round. In this study, we identified effects of migratory behavior variation on genetic structure and diversity of American Kestrels (Falco sparverius), a widespread partial migrant in North America. American Kestrels generally migrate; however, a resident group inhabits the southeastern United States year round. The southeastern group is designated as a separate subspecies (F. s. paulus) from the migratory group (F. s. sparverius). Using mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites from 183 and 211 individuals, respectively, we illustrate that genetic structure is stronger among nonmigratory populations, with differentiation measures ranging from 0.060 to 0.189 depending on genetic marker and analysis approach. In contrast, measures from western North American populations ranged from 0 to 0.032. These findings suggest that seasonal migratory behavior is also associated with natal and breeding dispersal tendencies. We likewise detected significantly lower genetic diversity within nonmigratory populations, reflecting the greater influence of genetic drift in small populations. We identified the signal of population expansion among nonmigratory populations, consistent with the recent establishment of higher latitude breeding locations following Pleistocene glacial retreat. Differentiation of F. s. paulus and F. s. sparverius reflected subtle differences in allele frequencies. Because migratory behavior can evolve quickly, our analyses suggest recent origins of migratory American Kestrel populations in North America.
Additional publication details
Variation in migratory behavior influences regional genetic diversity and structure among American kestrel populations (Falco sparverius) in North America