Research Article

Conservation Genetics

, 9:305

First online:

Population structure and genetic diversity in Swainson’s Hawks (Buteo swainsoni): implications for conservation

  • Joshua M. HullAffiliated withWildlife and Ecology Unit, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, University of California
  • , Richard AndersonAffiliated with
  • , Michael BradburyAffiliated withDepartment of Water Resources
  • , James A. EstepAffiliated with
  • , Holly B. ErnestAffiliated withWildlife and Ecology Unit, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, University of CaliforniaDepartment of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Email author 

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Swainson’s Hawks (Buteo swainsoni) are large raptors with a breeding distribution extending across much of western North America where they were historically considered one of the most abundant raptors. Swainson’s Hawks have declined precipitously in many parts of their range during the 20th century, and the historical range in California has been much reduced. In the Central Valley of California (CV), Swainson’s Hawks exhibit behavioral and morphological characteristics apparently different from other regions. To describe the genetic diversity and population structure of Swainson’s Hawks throughout their range, 19 microsatellite loci and 416 base pairs of the mitochondrial control region were analyzed. Microsatellite diversity appears high throughout the contemporary range. A Bayesian model-based analysis of microsatellite genotypes revealed clusters associated with the CV and the Great Basin/Great Plains region of North America (GBGP) with overlap between regions. F ST estimates suggest limited differentiation among Swainson’s Hawks with isolation by distance. A heterozygote excess indicated a recent reduction in effective population size of Swainson’s Hawks across all regions. Control region data revealed no population structure and provided evidence of historic population expansion in the GBGP. In the CV a weaker signature of population expansion was detected, possibly altered by recent declines. While genetic data suggests recent gene-flow across regions, apparent differences between the CV and GBGP in traits with potential fitness consequences (migratory behavior and morphology) along with marked decline in numbers in California call for careful conservation, management, and monitoring of Swainson’s Hawks in the CV.


Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni Population genetics Mitochondrial DNA Microsatellite