Multilocus population analysis of Gavia immer (Aves: Gaviidae) mtDNA reveals low genetic diversity and lack of differentiation across the species breeding range

Bartolomé, C., Maside, X., Camphuysen, K.C., Heubeck, M. & Bao, R., 2011. Multilocus population analysis of Gavia immer (Aves: Gaviidae) mtDNA reveals low genetic diversity and lack of differentiation across the species breeding range. Organisms Diversity & Evolution, 11(4), pp.307-316.


We analyzed the patterns of nucleotide sequence variation at three mitochondrial DNA loci, the noncoding mitochondrial control region and two genes (cytochrome b and cytochrome oxidase I) of Gavia immer in the largest collection of wintering individuals from Southern Europe to date. The sample consisted of 33 birds, oiled during the 2002/2003 Prestige tanker spill and washed ashore on the Galician coast (NW Iberian Peninsula). The aims of the study were to investigate the levels of standing genetic variation in the species, and to identify the geographic origin of these wintering birds. To do this, all available sequences of these loci, mostly from North American specimens collected from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, were retrieved from GenBank and included in the analysis. Overall, only 14 genetic variants were detected in the nearly 2 Kb surveyed, which reflects very low levels of nucleotide site diversity in this species. Interestingly, all variants were found at very low frequencies, and there was no indication of any clear subdivision in the G. immer population. This genetic profile is consistent with G. immer being a single panmictic population of small effective population size as compared with other seabirds. These circumstances preclude identification of the breeding regions of these wintering birds relying solely on genetic data. In the light of these results, possible causes, and the genetic and ecological consequences, of this demographic scenario are discussed.

Heterozygosity–fitness correlations in a declining seabird population

Velando, A., Barros, Á. & Moran, P. Heterozygosity–fitness correlations in a declining seabird population. Molecular ecology 24, 1007–1018 (2015).


Loss of genetic diversity is thought to lead to increased risk of extinction in endangered populations due to decreasing fitness of homozygous individuals. Here, we evaluated the presence of inbreeding depression in a long-lived seabird, the European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), after a severe decline in population size by nearly 70%. During three reproductive seasons, 85 breeders were captured and genotyped at seven microsatellite loci. Nest sites were monitored during the breeding season to estimate reproductive success as the number of chicks surviving to full-size-grown per nest. Captured birds were tagged with a ring with an individual code, and resighting data were collected during 7-year period. We found a strong effect of multilocus heterozygosity on female reproductive performance, and a significant, although weaker, effect on breeder survival. However, our matrix population model suggests that this relatively small effect of genetic diversity on breeder survival may have a profound effect on fitness. This highlights the importance of integrating life history consequences in HFC studies. Importantly, heterozygosity was correlated across loci, suggesting that genomewide effects, rather than single loci, are responsible for the observed HFCs. Overall, the HFCs are a worrying symptom of genetic erosion in this declining population. Many long-lived species are prone to extinction, and future studies should evaluate the magnitude of fitness impact of genetic deterioration on key population parameters, such as survival of breeders.

Colony Foundation in an Oceanic Seabird

Munilla, I., Genovart, M., Paiva, V. H. & Velando, A. Colony Foundation in an Oceanic Seabird. PloS one 11, e0147222 (2016).


Seabirds are colonial vertebrates that despite their great potential for long-range dispersal and colonization are reluctant to establish in novel locations, often recruiting close to their natal colony. The foundation of colonies is therefore a rare event in most seabird species and little is known about the colonization process in this group. The Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) is a pelagic seabird that has recently established three new colonies in Galicia (NE Atlantic) thus expanding its distribution range 500 km northwards. This study aimed to describe the establishment and early progress of the new Galician populations and to determine the genetic and morphometric characteristics of the individuals participating in these foundation events. Using 10 microsatellite loci, we tested the predictions supported by different seabird colonization models. Possibly three groups of non-breeders, adding up to around 200 birds, started visiting the Galician colonies in the mid 2000’s and some of them eventually laid eggs and reproduced, thus establishing new breeding colonies. The Galician populations showed a high genetic diversity and a frequency of private alleles similar to or even higher than some of the large historical populations. Most individuals were assigned to several Atlantic populations and a few (if any) to Mediterranean colonies. Our study suggests that a large and admixed population is settling in Galicia, in agreement with predictions from island metapopulation models of colonization. Multiple source colonies imply that some birds colonizing Galicia were dispersing from very distant colonies (> 1500 km). Long-distance colonizations undertaken by relatively large and admixed groups of colonizers can help to explain the low levels of genetic structure over vast areas that are characteristic of most oceanic seabird species.