Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) are among the most common North American shorebirds. Breeding in Arctic North America, this species displays regional differences in migratory pathways and possesses longitudinal bill length variation. Previous investigations suggested that genetic structure may occur within Semipalmated Sandpipers and that three subspecies corresponding to western, central, and eastern breeding groups exist. In this study, mitochondrial control region sequences and nuclear microsatellite loci were used to analyze DNA of birds (microsatellites: n = 120; mtDNA: n = 114) sampled from seven North American locations. Analyses designed to quantify genetic structure and diversity patterns, evaluate genetic evidence for population size changes, and determine if genetic data support the existence of Semipalmated Sandpiper subspecies were performed. Genetic structure based only on the mtDNA data was observed, whereas the microsatellite loci provided no evidence of genetic differentiation. Differentiation among locations and regions reflected allele frequency differences rather than separate phylogenetic groups, and similar levels of genetic diversity were noted. Combined, the two data sets provided no evidence to support the existence of subspecies and were not useful for determining migratory connectivity between breeding sites and wintering grounds. Birds from western and central groups displayed signatures of population expansions, whereas the eastern group was more consistent with a stable overall population. Results of this analysis suggest that the eastern group was the source of individuals that colonized the central and western regions currently utilized by Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Additional publication details
Population genetics and evaluation of genetic evidence for subspecies in the Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)