Gene flow connects coastal populations of a habitat specialist, the Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans

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Examining population genetic structure can reveal patterns of reproductive isolation or population mixing and inform conservation management. Some avian species are predicted to exhibit minimal genetic differentiation among populations as a result of the species high mobility, with habitat specialists tending to show greater fine‐scale genetic structure. To explore the relationship between habitat specialization and gene flow, we investigated the genetic structure of a saltmarsh specialist with high potential mobility across a wide geographic range of fragmented habitat. Little variation among mitochondrial sequences (620 bp from ND2) was observed among 149 individual Clapper Rails Rallus crepitans sampled along the Atlantic coast of North America, with the majority of individuals at all sampling sites sharing a single haplotype. Genotyping of nine microsatellite loci across 136 individuals revealed moderate genetic diversity, no evidence of bottlenecks, and a weak pattern of genetic differentiation that increased with geographic distance. Multivariate analyses, Bayesian clustering and an AMOVA all suggested a lack of genetic structuring across the North American Atlantic coast, with all individuals grouped into a single interbreeding population. Spatial autocorrelation analyses showed evidence of weak female philopatry and a lack of male philopatry. We conclude that high gene flow connecting populations of this habitat specialist may result from the interaction of ecological and behavioral factors that promote dispersal and limit natal philopatry and breeding‐site fidelity. As climate change threatens saltmarshes, the genetic diversity and population connectivity of Clapper Rails may promote resilience of their populations. This finding helps inform about potential fates of other similarly behaving saltmarsh specialists on the Atlantic coast.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Gene flow connects coastal populations of a habitat specialist, the Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans
Series title Ibis
DOI 10.1111/ibi.12599
Volume 161
Issue 1
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 66
Last page 78
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