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Inter-island movements and population differentiation in a pelagic seabird


Don Dearborn, Department of Biology and Program in Animal Behaviour, Bucknell University, Lewisburg PA 17837, USA. Fax: 570-577-3537;


We used mark–resight data and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers to assess movements and gene flow between Central Pacific breeding colonies of the great frigatebird, Fregata minor. Of 715 adult frigatebirds marked on Tern Island and Johnston Atoll, 21.3% were resighted at other frigatebird colonies at least 582 km away. Mark–resight data indicated regular movement of males and females between Tern Island and Johnston Atoll (873 km apart), and less frequent movements to other islands; no birds marked on Tern or Johnston were seen on Christmas Island, but one was seen in the Philippines, 7627 km from where it was marked. Despite the regular occurrence of interisland movements, Bayesian analyses of AFLP data showed significant genetic differentiation between Tern Island and Johnston Atoll, and more pronounced differentiation between these two islands and the more distant Christmas Island. The AFLP profiles of three birds breeding on Tern Island fell within the profile-cluster typical for Christmas Island birds, both in a nonmetric multidimensional scaling analysis and in a population assignment test, suggesting dispersal events from Christmas Island to Tern Island. Several factors could explain the persistence of genetic structure despite frequent movements between colonies: many movements occurred during the nonbreeding season, many breeding-season movements did not involve mate-acquisition behaviours and individuals that do disperse may be selected against, as suggested by morphometric differences between colonies. The persistence of genetic structure among breeding colonies despite significant interisland movements suggests limits to the effectiveness of migration as a homogenizing force in this broadly distributed, extremely mobile species.