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Keywords:

  • gene flow;
  • genetic differentiation;
  • genetic diversity;
  • microsatellites;
  • sex-biased dispersal

Abstract

Gene flow promotes genetic homogeneity of species in time and space. Gene flow can be modulated by sex-biased dispersal that links population genetics to mating systems. We investigated the phylogeography of the widely distributed Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus. This small shorebird has a large breeding range spanning from Western Europe to Japan and exhibits an unusually flexible mating system with high female breeding dispersal. We analysed genetic structure and gene flow using a 427-bp fragment of the mitochondrial (mtDNA) control region, 21 autosomal microsatellite markers and a Z microsatellite marker in 397 unrelated individuals from 21 locations. We found no structure or isolation-by-distance over the continental range. However, island populations had low genetic diversity and were moderately differentiated from mainland locations. Genetic differentiation based on autosomal markers was positively correlated with distance between mainland and each island. Comparisons of uniparentally and biparentally inherited markers were consistent with female-biased gene flow. Maternally inherited mtDNA was less structured, whereas the Z-chromosomal marker was more structured than autosomal microsatellites. Adult males were more related than females within genetic clusters. Taken together, our results suggest a prominent role for polyandrous females in maintaining genetic homogeneity across large geographic distances.