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Multilocus assignment analyses reveal multiple units and rare migration events in the recently expanded yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)


Sanne Boessenkool, Fax: +47 22 85 4001; E-mail:


The identification of demographically independent populations and the recognition of management units have been greatly facilitated by the continuing advances in genetic tools. Managements units now play a key role in short-term conservation management programmes of declining species, but their importance in expanding populations receives comparatively little attention. The endangered yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) expanded its range from the subantarctic to New Zealand's South Island a few hundred years ago and this new population now represents almost half of the species’ total census size. This dramatic expansion attests to M. antipodes’ high dispersal abilities and suggests the species is likely to constitute a single demographic population. Here we test this hypothesis of panmixia by investigating genetic differentiation and levels of gene flow among penguin breeding areas using 12 autosomal microsatellite loci along with mitochondrial control region sequence analyses for 350 individuals. Contrary to our hypothesis, however, the analyses reveal two genetically and geographically distinct assemblages: South Island vs. subantarctic populations. Using assignment tests, we recognize just two first-generation migrants between these populations (corresponding to a migration rate of < 2%), indicating that ongoing levels of long-distance migration are low. Furthermore, the South Island population has low genetic variability compared to the subantarctic population. These results suggest that the South Island population was founded by only a small number of individuals, and that subsequent levels of gene flow have remained low. The demographic independence of the two populations warrants their designation as distinct management units and conservation efforts should be adjusted accordingly to protect both populations.