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A role for nonphysical barriers to gene flow in the diversification of a highly vagile seabird, the masked booby (Sula dactylatra)


Tammy E. Steeves, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand. Fax: +64 3 364 2590; E-mail:


To test the hypothesis that nonphysical barriers to gene flow play a role in the divergence of low-latitude seabird populations, we applied phylogeographic methods to mitochondrial control region sequence variation in a global sample of masked boobies (Sula dactylatra). In accord with previous studies, we found that Indo-Pacific and Atlantic haplotypes form two divergent lineages, excluding one haplotype previously attributed to secondary contact between the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Within the Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic, we found a relatively large number of haplotypes, many of which were unique to a single population. Although haplotypes from most populations were found in more than one higher-level clade, nested clade analysis revealed a significant association between clades and geography for the majority of higher-level clades, most often interpreted as a consequence of isolation by distance. We found low levels of gene flow within Indo-Pacific and Atlantic populations, and a significant correlation between gene flow and geographical distance among Indo-Pacific populations. We estimate that Indo-Pacific masked boobies experienced rapid population growth ∼180 000 years ago and that the majority of Indo-Pacific and Atlantic populations diverged within the last ∼115 000 years. These combined data suggest that the predominant pattern between Indo-Pacific and Atlantic populations is long-term isolation by physical barriers to gene flow. In contrast, populations within these regions appear to have diverged despite few obvious physical barriers to gene flow, perhaps as a consequence of limited natal dispersal combined with local adaptation and/or genetic drift.