Aim Glacial refugia during the Pleistocene had major impacts on the levels and spatial apportionment of genetic diversity of species in northern latitude ecosystems. We characterized patterns of population subdivision, and tested hypotheses associated with locations of potential Pleistocene refugia and the relative contribution of these refugia to the post-glacial colonization of North America and Scandinavia by common eiders (Somateria mollissima). Specifically, we evaluated localities hypothesized as ice-free areas or glacial refugia for other Arctic vertebrates, including Beringia, the High Arctic Canadian Archipelago, Newfoundland Bank, Spitsbergen Bank and north-west Norway.
Location Alaska, Canada, Norway and Sweden.
Methods Molecular data from 12 microsatellite loci, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region, and two nuclear introns were collected and analysed for 15 populations of common eiders (n = 716) breeding throughout North America and Scandinavia. Population genetic structure, historical population fluctuations and gene flow were inferred using F-statistics, analyses of molecular variance, and multilocus coalescent analyses.
Results Significant inter-population variation in allelic and haplotypic frequencies were observed (nuclear DNA FST = 0.004–0.290; mtDNA ΦST = 0.051–0.927). Whereas spatial differentiation in nuclear genes was concordant with subspecific designations, geographic proximity was more predictive of inter-population variance in mitochondrial DNA haplotype frequency. Inferences of historical population demography were consistent with restriction of common eiders to four geographic areas during the Last Glacial Maximum: Belcher Islands, Newfoundland Bank, northern Alaska and Svalbard. Three of these areas coincide with previously identified glacial refugia: Newfoundland Bank, Beringia and Spitsbergen Bank. Gene-flow and clustering analyses indicated that the Beringian refugium contributed little to common eider post-glacial colonization of North America, whereas Canadian, Scandinavian and southern Alaskan post-glacial colonization is likely to have occurred in a stepwise fashion from the same glacial refugium.
Main conclusions Concordance of proposed glacial refugia used by common eiders and other Arctic species indicates that Arctic and subarctic refugia were important reservoirs of genetic diversity during the Pleistocene. Furthermore, suture zones identified at MacKenzie River, western Alaska/Aleutians and Scandinavia coincide with those identified for other Arctic vertebrates, suggesting that these regions were strong geographic barriers limiting dispersal from Pleistocene refugia.