Research Article

Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 2105-2120

First online:

East–west genetic differentiation in Musk Ducks (Biziura lobata) of Australia suggests late Pleistocene divergence at the Nullarbor Plain

  • P.-J. GuayAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of MelbourneSchool of Engineering and Science, Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, Victoria University, St-Albans Email author 
  • , R. T. ChesserAffiliated withAustralian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO Sustainable EcosystemsU.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
  • , R. A. MulderAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Melbourne
  • , A. D. AftonAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Louisiana State University
  • , D. C. PatonAffiliated withSchool of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Adelaide
  • , K. G. McCrackenAffiliated withDepartment of Biology and Wildlife, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Museum, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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Musk Ducks (Biziura lobata) are endemic to Australia and occur as two geographically isolated populations separated by the Nullarbor Plain, a vast arid region in southern Australia. We studied genetic variation in Musk Duck populations at coarse (eastern versus western Australia) and fine scales (four sites within eastern Australia). We found significant genetic structure between eastern and western Australia in the mtDNA control region (ΦST = 0.747), one nuclear intron (ΦST = 0.193) and eight microsatellite loci (FST = 0.035). In contrast, there was little genetic structure between Kangaroo Island and adjacent mainland regions within eastern Australia. One small population of Musk Ducks in Victoria (Lake Wendouree) differed from both Kangaroo Island and the remainder of mainland eastern Australia, possibly due to genetic drift exacerbated by inbreeding and small population size. The observed low pairwise distance between the eastern and western mtDNA lineages (0.36%) suggests that they diverged near the end of the Pleistocene, a period characterised by frequent shifts between wet and arid conditions in central Australia. Our genetic results corroborate the display call divergence and Mathews’ (Austral Avian Record 2:83–107, 1914) subspecies classification, and confirm that eastern and western populations of Musk Duck are currently isolated from each other.


Arid zone Microsatellite Mitochondrial DNA Nuclear intron Nullarbor Plain Waterfowl