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Late Pleistocene divergence between eastern and western populations of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) inferred by the ‘isolation with migration’ coalescent method


Jeffrey L. Peters, Fax: 410-455-3875; E-mail:


During the Late Pleistocene, glaciers sundered many species into multiple glacial refugia where populations diverged in allopatry. Although deeply divergent mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages often reflect the number of refugia occupied, it is unlikely that populations that split during the recent Wisconsin glaciations will have reached reciprocal monophyly. We examined mtDNA control region sequences from eastern and western populations of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) to determine whether their current, disjunct distribution is consistent with the occupancy of two glacial refugia. We used the ‘isolation with migration’ coalescent method (im) to simultaneously estimate effective population sizes, maternal gene flow, and time since divergence. We found 24 unique haplotypes, none of which were shared between the eastern and western populations, but we did not find diagnostic monophyletic lineages suggestive of long-term isolation in multiple glacial refugia. However, a high ΦST (0.31) indicates that eastern and western populations are well differentiated in mtDNA, and results from im suggest that these populations have been diverging, without extensive gene flow, for 10 000 to 124 000 years. Results from im further suggest that these populations most likely split about 34 000 years ago, and this time of divergence is consistent with the occupancy of multiple glacial refugia during the Late Wisconsin glaciation. Eastern wood ducks are characterized by high genetic diversity, a large effective population size, and a recent population expansion, while western wood ducks have much less genetic diversity, a smaller population size, and have not undergone a recent population expansion.