Are European starlings breeding in the Azores archipelago genetically distinct from birds breeding in mainland Europe?
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The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) has recently been found to eat eggs of the endangered roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) in the Azores. Azorean starlings are considered an endemic subspecies (S. vulgaris granti), so we investigated how much genetic divergence has accumulated between the Azores and other European populations in order to assess whether lethal control measures might be possible, as previous experiments have found that taste aversion is not likely to be successful. For this purpose, we sequenced a region of the protein-coding mitochondrial gene ND2 for samples from six different populations. Of the 1,026 base pairs sequenced, 19 (1.7%) were variable and formed 15 different haplotypes. The Azores had high and significant genetic differentiation from all the other populations studied. Haplotype diversity was high in the mainland populations studied, ranging from 0.767 to 0.900, but there was no variation among the Azores samples, which were collected from a geographically broad region. Given the lack of genetic variability in the Azores birds and their abundance throughout the archipelago, lethal control on a local basis and as part of an integrated control plan can be seen as a reasonable measure to protect tern colonies.
KeywordsAzores Genetic divergence ND2 European starling Conservation
Verónica Neves thanks the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT-MCTES) for funding (grant reference SFRH/BD/3436/2000). We are grateful to Sotirios Panagiatakopoulos and Juan Simón for help with the fieldwork, Jane Reid for providing the Fair Isle blood samples, Bernie Zonfrillo for providing the Glasgow samples, Emma Smith for providing the Bristol samples, Prof. Jan T Lifjeld from the Museum of Natural History of Oslo for providing the Norwegian samples, and Oriol Clarabuch and Jacob González-Solís for providing those from Spain. Fieldwork in the Azores was undertaken with a permit from Direcção Regional do Ambiente.
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