Phylogeography of shy and white-capped albatrosses inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences: implications for population history and taxonomy


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The evolutionary relationship between shy (Thalassarche cauta) and white-capped (T. steadi) albatrosses was examined using mitochondrial control region sequences. Results were interpreted in the context of a recent and contentious taxonomic revision that recommended full species status for shy and white-capped albatrosses. Low sequence divergence between shy and white-capped albatrosses (1.8%) and between their close relatives, Salvin's and Chatham albatrosses (2.9%), was observed. Much higher sequence divergence was found between the shy/white-capped pair and the Salvin’s/Chatham pair (7.0%). Phylogenetic analyses confirmed the separation of the shy/white-capped pair from the Salvin’s/Chatham pair but did not provide species-level resolution. Phylogeographic analyses, including a nested clade analysis, FST estimates and an analysis of molecular variance, indicated unambiguous genetic structuring between shy and white-capped albatrosses, thus confirming the demographic isolation of the species, but showed little to no structuring within each species. The geographical distribution of mtDNA haplotypes and other evidence suggest that shy albatrosses arose through range expansion by white-capped albatrosses.