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Islands in the ice: colonisation routes for rock ptarmigan to the Svalbard archipelago

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The ancestors of rock ptarmigan Lagopus muta originated in the Beringia area well before the disruption of the Beringian land bridge. They spread westwards to Siberia and eastwards to the North American arctic and Greenland. The distribution of rock ptarmigan has been affected by glaciations restricting it to geographically limited refugia. Today the species has a circumpolar distribution in arctic tundra and alpine habitats, with up to 30 subspecies recognised based on morphological characters. We sequenced the mitochondrial control region for 72 individuals and genotyped 69 individuals for 12 microsatellite loci to investigate neutral genetic variation within and among five rock ptarmigan populations, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Svalbard and Taimyr. Genetic structure among the studied samples was high, overall FST estimated from microsatellite loci was 0.18 and only one out of 16 mtDNA haplotypes was found in more than one population. Genetic variation (h, , He, allelic richness) was slightly lower in the Svalbard population than in other populations, suggesting a low effective population size, possibly due to isolation following colonisation. An unrooted network and a phylogenetic tree showed that the Scandinavian population has diverged from the other populations by at least ten mutational steps, probably due to independent colonisation of Europe and subsequent long-term isolation, and rules out Scandinavia as a source for colonisation of Svalbard. Alignment with partial control region sequences from other studies showed that the haplotype that was central in our network and found on Svalbard and in Taimyr, most likely corresponds to a haplotype found in Siberia, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, but not in Greenland, Scandinavia and Iceland. This suggests an eastern origin of rock ptarmigan in Svalbard, although this question cannot be settled conclusively.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2009

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