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Date: 01 May 2014

Museum collections reveal that Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Calidris subruficollis) maintained mtDNA variability despite large population declines during the past 135 years


A principal goal of conservation efforts for threatened and endangered taxa is maintenance of genetic diversity. Modern and historic processes that limit population size can contribute to a loss of genetic variation that can reduce future adaptability of a species. Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Calidris subruficollis) are a Neotropical migratory shorebird that experienced rapid, large-scale declines in population numbers (population bottleneck) due to intensive market hunting at the turn of the 20th century. Market hunting ended shortly after the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, but subsequent population losses have occurred due to continued anthropogenic disturbances throughout the species’ migratory range. To assess the impact of population declines on the genetic variation of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, we surveyed two mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers, the control region and cytochrome b, from 209 museum specimens collected between 1874 and 1983 and 460 modern samples collected between 1993 and 2009. Measures of mtDNA variation did not change significantly among individuals sampled before and after the ban on market hunting, nor among four temporal groups (Pre-Act, Early Post-Act, Late Post-Act, and Modern; trend analysis: χ 2 = 0.171, P = 0.679). Similarly, we did not observe loss of common haplotypes, implying that there was no substantial reduction in unique matrilineal units during our 135-year study period. Using Bayesian Skyline reconstruction of temporal changes in effective population size of females (N ef), we concluded that N ef has been stable for the past century. Results of resampling suggest that diversity estimators can be imprecise and we emphasize the importance of a well-rounded analytical approach to addressing conservation genetic hypotheses. Considering all of the evidence it appears that genetic variation and N ef were stable despite the pressures of market hunting early in the 20th century and habitat loss and degradation in the latter half of the 20th century. Conservation efforts should continue to focus on maintaining the population size of Buff-breasted Sandpipers to avoid reaching a threshold where genetic variability is lost.