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Phylogeography of the white-tailed eagle, a generalist with large dispersal capacity

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Abstract Aim 

Late Pleistocene glacial changes had a major impact on many boreal and temperate taxa, and this impact can still be detected in the present-day phylogeographic structure of these taxa. However, only minor effects are expected in species with generalist habitat requirements and high dispersal capability. One such species is the white-tailed eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla, and we therefore tested for the expected weak population structure at a continental level in this species. This also allowed us to describe phylogeographic patterns, and to deduce Ice Age refugia and patterns of postglacial recolonization of Eurasia. Location 

Breeding populations from the easternmost Nearctic (Greenland) and across the Palaearctic (Iceland, continental Europe, central and eastern Asia, and Japan). Methods 

Sequencing of a 500 base-pair fragment of the mitochondrial DNA control region in 237 samples from throughout the distribution range. Results 

Our analysis revealed pronounced phylogeographic structure. Overall, low genetic variability was observed across the entire range. Haplotypes clustered in two distinct haplogroups with a predominantly eastern or western distribution, and extensive overlap in Europe. These two major lineages diverged during the late Pleistocene. The eastern haplogroup showed a pattern of rapid population expansion and colonization of Eurasia around the end of the Pleistocene. The western haplogroup had lower diversity and was absent from the populations in eastern Asia. These results suggest survival during the last glaciation in two refugia, probably located in central and western Eurasia, followed by postglacial population expansion and admixture. Relatively high genetic diversity was observed in northern regions that were ice-covered during the last glacial maximum. This, and phylogenetic relationships between haplotypes encountered in the north, indicates substantial population expansion at high latitudes. Areas of glacial meltwater runoff and proglacial lakes could have provided suitable habitats for such population growth. Main conclusions 

This study shows that glacial climate fluctuations had a substantial impact on white-tailed eagles, both in terms of distribution and demography. These results suggest that even species with large dispersal capabilities and relatively broad habitat requirements were strongly affected by the Pleistocene climatic shifts.
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Keywords: Control region; Eurasia; Falconiformes; Haliaeetus albicilla; mtDNA; population expansion; postglacial colonization

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Contaminant Research Group, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Box 50007, 10405 Stockholm, Sweden 2: Norwegian Sea-Eagle Project, Eiksund, 6065 Ulsteinvik, Norway 3: Field Research Group for the Kola North, Krasnostudencheskiy pr., 21-45, Moscow 127422, Russia 4: Postb. 10, 7994 Leka, Norway 5: Lindenallé 5, 19073 Neu Wandrum, Germany 6: Hagebyv. 39, 9404 Harstad, Norway, 7: Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Biological Faculty of the Moscow State University, Leninskie Gory 1-12, 119992 Moscow, Russia 8: Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Tungasletta 2, 7485 Trondheim, Norway 9: Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, 195 Marsteller Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2033, USA 10: Wildlife Section, Nature Conservation Department, Hokkaido Institute of Environmental Sciences, Kita-19 Nishi-12 Kita-ku, Sapporo, 060-0819, Japan 11: Icelandic Institute of Natural History, Hlemmur 3, 105 Reykjavik, Iceland 12: Eagle Club, Vahtra 5, 93813 Kuressaare, Estonia 13: Thorsvej 18, 4180 Sorö, Denmark 14: Department of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18d, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden

Publication date: 2007-07-01

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