Original Article

Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 146, Issue 3, pp 226-234

First online:

Genetic differentiation and hybridization between greater and lesser spotted eagles (Accipitriformes:Aquila clanga, A. pomarina)

  • Andreas J. HelbigAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Greifswald University Email author 
  • , Ingrid SeiboldAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Greifswald University
  • , Annett KocumAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Greifswald University
  • , Dorit LiebersAffiliated withInstitute of Zoology, Greifswald University
  • , Jessica IrwinAffiliated withMolecular Population Biology Lab, Department of Animal Ecology, Lund University
  • , Ugis BergmanisAffiliated with
  • , Bernd U. MeyburgAffiliated with
  • , Wolfgang SchellerAffiliated with
  • , Michael StubbeAffiliated withInstitut für Zoologie, Universität Halle-Wittenberg
    • , Staffan BenschAffiliated withMolecular Population Biology Lab, Department of Animal Ecology, Lund University

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Greater and lesser spotted eagles (Aquila clanga, A. pomarina) are two closely related forest eagles overlapping in breeding range in east-central Europe. In recent years a number of mixed pairs have been observed, some of which fledged hybrid young. Here we use mitochondrial (control region) DNA sequences and AFLP markers to estimate genetic differentiation and possible gene flow between these species. In a sample of 83 individuals (61 pomarina, 20 clanga, 2 F1-hybrids) we found 30 mitochondrial haplotypes which, in a phylogenetic network, formed two distinct clusters differing on average by 3.0% sequence divergence. The two species were significantly differentiated both at the mitochondrial and nuclear (AFLP) genetic level. However, five individuals with pomarina phenotype possessed clanga-type mtDNA, suggesting occasional gene flow. Surprisingly, AFLP markers indicated that these “mismatched” birds (originating from Germany, E Poland and Latvia) were genetically intermediate between the samples of individuals in which mtDNA haplotype and phenotype agreed. This indicates that mismatched birds were either F1 or recent back-cross hybrids. Mitochondrial introgression was asymmetrical (no pomarina haplotype found in clanga so far), which may be due to assortative mating by size. Gene flow of nuclear markers was estimated to be about ten times stronger than for mtDNA, indicating a sex-bias in hybrid fertility in accordance with Haldane’s rule. Hybridization between the two species may be more frequent and may occur much further west than hitherto assumed. This is supported by the recent discovery of a mixed pair producing at least one fledgling in NE Germany.


Amplified fragment length polymorphism Haldane’s rule Hybridization Hypervariable control region 1 Mitochondrial introgression