We examined the genetic structure of doublecrested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) across their range in the United States and Canada. Sequences of the mitochondrial control region were analyzed for 248 cormorants
from 23 breeding sites. Variation was also examined at eight microsatellite loci for 409 cormorants from the same sites. The mitochondrial and microsatellite data provided strong evidence that the Alaskan subspecies (P. a. cincinnatus)
is genetically divergent from other populations in North America (net sequence divergence = 5.85 %;UST for mitochondrial control region = 0.708; FST for microsatellite loci = 0.052). Historical records, contemporary population estimates, and field observations are consistent with recognition of the Alaskan subspecies as distinct and potentially of conservation interest. Our data also indicated the presence of another divergent lineage, associated with the southwestern portion of the species range, as evidenced by highly unique haplotypes sampled in southern California. In contrast, there was little support for recognition of subspecies within the conterminous U.S. and Canada. Rather than genetically distinct regions corresponding to the putative subspecies [P. a. albociliatus (Pacific), P. a. auritus (Interior and North Atlantic), and P. a. floridanus (Southeast)], we observed a distribution of genetic variation consistent with a pattern of isolation by distance. This pattern implies that genetic differences across the range are due to geographic distance, rather than discrete subspecific breaks. Although three of the four traditional subspecies were not genetically distinct, possible demographic separation, habitat differences, and documented declines at some colonies within the regions, suggests that the Pacific and possibly North Atlantic portions of the breeding range may warrant differential consideration from the Interior and Southeast breeding regions.
Additional publication details
Phylogeography and population genetic structure of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus)