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Philopatry, morphological divergence, and kin groups: structuring in thick-billed murres Uria lomvia within a colony in Arctic Canada


  • Gabriela Ibarguchi,

  • Anthony J. Gaston,

  • Vicki L. Friesen

G. Ibarguchi ( and V. L. Friesen, Dept of Biology, Queen's Univ., Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6, Canada. – A. J. Gaston, Natl Wildl. Res. Centre, Canadian Wildl. Service, Carleton Univ. Ottawa, ON, K1A 0H3, Canada.


Many seabirds exhibit high natal philopatry despite their extreme dispersal ability and delayed reproduction, and some exhibit phenotypic clustering in colonies and fostering or adoption of neighbouring chicks. Previous investigations of kinship in a small thick-billed murre colony Uria lomvia (Alcidae) in Norway revealed high relatedness among breeders on cliff ledges. To investigate the presence of kin groups and within-colony genetic sub-structuring elsewhere, we investigated kinship within a larger murre colony on Coats Island, Nunavut, Canada. Morphological (five characters) and genetic data (five microsatellite loci and a fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene) were analysed. Strong morphological differentiation was found among ledges. Genetic structuring was overall weak but significant at the coarse scale for males among ledges and on the east vs. the west side of the colony. Global spatial autocorrelation analyses did not detect consistent, widespread spatial patterns, although local 2D analyses provided some evidence of a tendency for larger neighbourhood sizes for females and a broad range of small to large neighbourhoods for males. Average within-ledge relatedness was low overall, but ranged widely from slightly unrelated to greater than the level of cousins in both sexes. Kin-level relationships occurred on ledges more frequently for same-sex groups than expected by chance, suggesting that recruiting breeders (especially females) avoid or are unable to settle directly adjacent to relatives particularly of the opposite sex. Behavioural studies of natal dispersal of murres at Coats I. indicating that both sexes are highly philopatric, but that up to one-fifth of females may disperse, are concordant with this study. Overall, structuring was weaker than in Norway, and may be explained in part by genetic marker and sampling artifacts, and by the lack of genetic equilibrium suspected in the much larger Canadian Arctic colony. Natal philopatry may be an important factor driving the diversification of seabirds and kin groups in other colonies and species and may be more widespread than is currently acknowledged.