Glacial vicariance and historical biogeography of rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) in the Bering region


Karen Holder. *Present address: Center for Tropical Research, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave, San Francisco CA 94132, USA. Fax: (415) 405-0421;E-mail:


In this paper, we address alternative hypotheses for the evolution of subspecies of rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) endemic to the Aleutian Archipelago. To do this we examined patterns of genetic differentiation among populations of rock ptarmigan in the Aleutian Islands and parts of both Alaska and Siberia. Variation in mitochondrial control region sequences of 105 rock ptarmigan from 10 subspecies within the Bering region revealed three major phylogenetic lineages, two of which are endemic to the Aleutian Islands. Accordingly, haplotype and nucleotide diversities of rock ptarmigan within the archipelago are much higher than within mainland Alaska or Siberia. For Aleutian rock ptarmigan, analyses of molecular variance indicated significant genetic structuring and low estimates of gene flow among populations, despite small interisland distances within the archipelago. However, isolation by distance did not describe the pattern of gene flow or differentiation at this scale. Our estimates of divergence times of lineages suggest that Aleutian rock ptarmigan became isolated prior to the most recent Pleistocene glaciation event (late Wisconsin Stade) and that current patterns of genetic variation reflect the postglacial redistribution of divergent lineages and subsequent limited gene flow. In addition, genetic divergence among lineages was concordant with the distribution of plumage types among subspecies. The patterns of genetic variation described here for rock ptarmigan provide evidence for the role of glacial vicariance in contributing to genetic diversity within this and other Bering region species.