Get access

Contrasting patterns of mitochondrial and microsatellite genetic structure among Western European populations of tawny owls (Strix aluco)


Patrícia H. Brito, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Fax: (617) 4955667. E-mail:


A recent study of mitochondrial phylogeography of tawny owls (Strix aluco) in western Europe suggested that this species survived the Pleistocene glaciations in three allopatric refugia located in Iberia, Italy, and the Balkans, and the latter was likely the predominant source of postglacial colonization of northern Europe. New data from seven microsatellite loci from 184 individual owls distributed among 14 populations were used to assess the genetic congruence between nuclear and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers. Microsatellites corroborated the major phylogeographical conclusions reached on the basis of the mtDNA sequences, but also showed important differences leading to novel inferences. Microsatellites corroborated the three major refugia and supported the Balkan origin of northern populations. When corrected for differences in effective population size, microsatellites and mtDNA yielded generally congruent overall estimates of population structure (inline image = 0.12 vs. RST = 0.16); however, there was substantial heterogeneity in the RST among the seven nuclear loci that was not correlated with heterozygosity. Populations representing the Balkans postglacial expansion interact with populations from the other two refugia forming two clines near the Alps and the Pyrenees. In both cases, the apparent position of the contact zones differed substantially between markers due to the genetic composition of populations sampled in northern Italy and Madrid. Microsatellite data did not corroborate the lower genetic diversity of northern, recently populated regions as was found with mtDNA; this discrepancy was taken as evidence for a recent bottleneck recovery. Finally, this study suggests that congruence among genetic markers should be more likely in cases of range expansion into new areas than when populations interact across contact zones.

Get access to the full text of this article