Mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite variation in the eider duck (Somateria mollissima) indicate stepwise postglacial colonization of Europe and limited current long-distance dispersal


Ralph Tiedemann. Fax: + 49 331 977 5070; E-mail:


To unravel the postglacial colonization history and the current intercolony dispersal in the common eider, Somateria mollissima, we analysed genetic variation at a part of the mitochondrial control region and five unlinked autosomal microsatellite loci in 175 eiders from 11 breeding colonies, covering the entire European distribution range of this species. As a result of extreme female philopatry, mitochondrial DNA differentiation is substantial both among local colonies and among distant geographical regions. Our study further corroborates the previous hypothesis of a single Pleistocene refugium for European eiders. A nested clade analysis on mitochondrial haplotypes suggests that (i) the Baltic Sea eider population is genetically closest to a presumably ancestral population and that (ii) the postglacial recolonization progressed in a stepwise fashion via the North Sea region and the Faroe Islands to Iceland. Current long-distance dispersal is limited. Differentiation among colonies is much less pronounced at microsatellite loci. The geographical pattern of this nuclear genetic variation is to a large extent explained by isolation by distance. As female dispersal is very limited, the geographical pattern of nuclear variation is probably explained by male-mediated gene flow among breeding colonies. Our study provides genetic evidence for the assumed prominent postglacial colonization route shaping the present terrestrial fauna of the North Atlantic islands Iceland and the Faroes. It suggests that this colonization had been a stepwise process originating in continental Europe. It is the first molecular study on eider duck populations covering their entire European distribution range.