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Population genetics after fragmentation: the case of the endangered Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti)


Begoña Martínez-Cruz. Fax: +34 954 62 11 25; E-mail:


The highly endangered Spanish imperial eagle, Aquila adalberti, has suffered from both population decline and fragmentation during the last century. Here we describe the current genetic status of the population using an extensive sampling of its current distribution range and both mitochondrial control region sequences and nuclear microsatellite markers. Results were evaluated in comparison to those obtained for the Eastern imperial eagle, Aquila heliaca, its nearest extant relative. Mitochondrial haplotype diversity was lower in the Spanish than in the Eastern species whereas microsatellite allelic richness and expected heterozygosity did not differ. Both allelic richness and expected heterozygosity were lower in the small Parque Nacional de Doñana breeding nucleus compared to the remaining nuclei. A signal for a recent genetic bottleneck was not detected in the current Spanish imperial eagle population. We obtained low but significant pairwise FST values that were congruent with a model of isolation by distance. FST and exact tests showed differentiation among the peripheral and small Parque Nacional de Doñana population and the remaining breeding subgroups. The centrally located Montes de Toledo population did not differ from the surrounding Centro, Extremadura and Sierra Morena populations whereas the latter were significantly differentiated. On the other hand, a Bayesian approach identified two groups, Parque Nacional de Doñana and the rest of breeding nuclei. Recent migration rates into and from Parque Nacional de Doñana and the rest of breeding nuclei were detected by assignment methods and estimated as 2.4 and 5.7 individuals per generation, respectively, by a Bayesian approach. We discuss how management strategies should aim at the maintenance of current genetic variability levels and the avoidance of inbreeding depression through the connection of the different nuclei.