The northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) is an abundant seabird whose Northeast Atlantic population has expanded dramatically over the past 100 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that Iceland and St Kilda were the ancestral populations from which essentially all other colonies in the region were derived. We collected samples from seven breeding colonies around the North Atlantic and used mitochondrial DNA analysis to ask whether population structure was present and, if so, where there was evidence about which colony was the dominant source population. Our data reveal a pattern consistent with isolation by distance, suggesting that, even though capable of flying great distances, most birds return to breed either at their own or neighbouring colonies. Interestingly, although most colonizers appear to have come originally from Iceland, our analysis also identifies St Kilda as a possible source. However, this secondary pattern appears to be largely an artefact, and can be attributed to the low haplotype diversity on St Kilda which yields a much clearer isolation by distance signal than that generated by birds dispersing from Iceland, where haplotype diversity is extremely high. Consequently, we urge caution when interpreting patterns in which populations vary greatly in the genetic diversity they harbour.
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