Genetic structure and mating system in the palila, an endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper, as assessed by DNA fingerprinting


  • This paper is the first result from a collaboration between researchers from the Molecular Generics Laboratory at the National Zoological Park and the Hawai'i Research Group of the National Biological Survey. Rob Fleischer is Head of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory and an evolutionary geneticist. He has been studying the genetics of various Hawaiian birds for almost ten years. Cheryl Tarr is a research assistant in the Molecular Genetics Laboratory, and a graduate student in molecular evolution at Pennsylvania State University. Her dissertation research involves the systematics and population genetics of Hawaiian honeycreepers and other endangered Hawaiian taxa. Thane Pratt is a research biologist with the Hawai'i Research Group of the National Biological Survey. His primary interests are in the ecology, behavior and conservation of native birds of Hawai'i and elsewhere in the Pacific. He, along with other researchers of the Hawai'i Field Station, has just completed a long-term study of population ecology of the palila.


We conducted DNA fingerprinting analyses to ascertain the mating system and population genetic structure of the palila, an endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper, which occupies a fragmented range on the Mauna Kea volcano of the island of Hawai'i. DNA fingerprinting of twelve complete families from the Pu'u La'au population revealed no evidence of extrapair fertilization or intraspecific brood parasitism. Band-sharing coefficients from fingerprints produced with two probes revealed that the large Pu'u La'au population on the southwest slope of Mauna Kea, and a smaller, geographically separate population on the east slope (at Kanakaleonui) had relatively high and virtually identical levels of minisatellite variability (mean S of 0.27 for each population based on combined data of M13 and Jeffreys 33.15 probes). The two populations also had nearly identical allele frequencies based on their mean corrected similarity, Sij, of 0.98. These data suggest that the two populations have not been fragmented long and/or have sufficient current gene flow to ameliorate any affects of genetic drift. We conclude that present levels of inbreeding are low within both populations, and that proposed translocations of individuals from Pu'u La'au to Kanakaleonui appear appropriate from a genetic standpoint.