Large white-headed gulls provide an interesting group of birds for studies of hybridization. The group is composed of 20 species of recent origin, often with weak reproductive barriers. Here we report the results from a study on the glaucous gull Larus hyperboreus, an Arctic species which has been breeding in Iceland for centuries, and the herring gull Larus argentatus which has a wide distribution in Europe but colonized Iceland in 1920s. Previous studies, based on morphological variation indicated hybridization between the two species in Iceland, have been questioned as it may just reflect variation within the species. Here we evaluate whether hybridization has occurred between the two species in Iceland by studying variation in microsatellites and mtDNA. The analysis is based on feathers taken from wings sampled in Iceland over a period of 40 years. The results are compared with samples obtained from East Greenland and published sequences of samples obtained throughout Europe. The genetic analysis reveals a distinctive grouping of the two species, although they present a shallow genealogy and an extensive sharing of the genetic variants between the two species. Several individuals show admixture for molecular markers, which may result from an incomplete lineage sorting although geographical patterns of both mtDNA haplotypes and microsatellites strongly indicate a recent hybridization in Iceland.
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