Quaternary glaciations affected the distribution of many species. Here, we investigate whether the Arctic represented a glacial refugium during the Last Glacial Maximum or an area of secondary contact following the ice retreat, by analyzing the genetic population structure of the thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), a seabird that breeds throughout the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Arctic Oceans. The thick-billed murre is a species of socio-economic importance and faces numerous threats including hunting, oil pollution, gill netting, and climate change. We compared variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region (n = 424), supplemented by 4 microsatellite loci (n = 445), among thick-billed murres sampled throughout their range. MtDNA data indicated that colonies comprise 4 genetically differentiated groups (Phist = 0.11-0.81): 1) Atlantic Ocean plus New Siberian Islands region, 2) Cape Parry, 3) Chukchi Sea, and 4) Pacific Ocean. Microsatellite variation differed between Atlantic and Pacific populations. Otherwise, little substructure was found within either ocean. Atlantic and Pacific populations appear to have been genetically isolated since the last interglacial period and should be considered separate evolutionary significant units for management. The Chukchi Sea and Cape Parry appear to represent areas of secondary contact, rather than arctic refugial populations.
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