Phylogeographic patterns of intraspecific variation can provide insights into the population-level processes responsible for speciation and yield information useful for conservation purposes. To examine phylogeography and population structure in a migratory passerine bird at both continental and regional geographical scales, we analysed 344 bp of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequence from 155 yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia) collected from seven locations across Canada and from Alaska. There is a major subdivision between eastern (Manitoba to Newfoundland) and western (Alaska and British Columbia) populations which appears to have developed during the recent Pleistocene. Some localities within these two regions also differ significantly in their genetic composition, suggesting further subdivision on a regional geographical scale. Eastern and western birds form distinct phylogeographic entities and the clustering of all western haplotypes with two eastern haplotypes suggests that the western haplotypes may be derived from an eastern lineage. Analyses based on coalescent models support this explanation for the origin of western haplotypes. These results are consistent with important features of Mengel’s model of warbler diversification. From a conservation perspective they also suggest that individual populations of migrant birds may form demographically isolated management units on a smaller scale than previously appreciated.
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