Biogeographic models of gene flow in two waterfowl of the Australo-Papuan tropics


  • Australian Research Council Research grant LP0775076 to D. R., R. H. and L. J. P. B. was supported by a US National Science Foundation DEB 0822626 and DEB 1145999.


David A. Roshier, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Waurn Ponds Campus, Geelong, VIC 3217, Australia. Tel: +61 447 840393; Fax: +61 2 6242 1688; E-mail:


There are many large, easy-to-observe anseriform birds (ducks, geese, and swans) in northern Australia and New Guinea and they often gather in large numbers. Yet, the structure of their populations and their regional movements are poorly understood. Lack of understanding of population structure limits our capacity to understand source-sink dynamics relevant to their conservation or assess risks associated with avian-borne pathogens, in particular, avian influenza for which waterfowl are the main reservoir species. We set out to assess present-day genetic connectivity between populations of two widely distributed waterfowl in the Australo-Papuan tropics, magpie goose Anseranas semipalmata (Latham, 1798) and wandering whistling-duck Dendrocygna arcuata (Horsfield, 1824). Microsatellite data were obtained from 237 magpie geese and 64 wandering whistling-duck. Samples were collected across northern Australia, and at one site each in New Guinea and Timor Leste. In the wandering whistling-duck, genetic diversity was significantly apportioned by region and sampling location. For this species, the best model of population structure was New Guinea as the source population for all other populations. One remarkable result for this species was genetic separation of two flocks sampled contemporaneously on Cape York Peninsula only a few kilometers apart. In contrast, evidence for population structure was much weaker in the magpie goose, and Cape York as the source population provided the best fit to the observed structure. The fine scale genetic structure observed in wandering whistling-duck and magpie goose is consistent with earlier suggestions that the west-coast of Cape York Peninsula is a flyway for Australo-Papuan anseriforms between Australia and New Guinea across Torres Strait.