Population structure and loss of genetic diversity in the endangered white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala
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- Muñoz-Fuentes, V., Green, A.J., Negro, J.J. et al. Conserv Genet (2005) 6: 999. doi:10.1007/s10592-005-9093-6
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The white-headed duck is a globally threatened species native to the Palaearctic with a range extending from Spain in the west to the western edge of China in the east. Its populations have become fragmented and undergone major declines in recent decades. To study genetic differences between populations across the range and change in genetic diversity over time, we sequenced a portion of the mitochondrial DNA control region from 67 museum specimens (years 1861–1976) as well as 39 contemporary samples from Spain and seven from Greece (years 1992–2003). In the historical sample, we found a lack of significant genetic structure between populations in different areas. We found evidence that the species experienced a rapid expansion in the past, perhaps from glacial refugia centred around the Mediterranean following the last ice age. In Spain, the population went through a dramatic bottleneck in the 1970s and early 1980s, when only a few dozens individuals remained in the wild. Although population size has since recovered to a few thousand individuals, we found a highly significant loss of mitochondrial haplotype diversity between the historical and contemporary samples. Given ongoing declines in other areas, losses in genetic diversity that may reduce the adaptive potential of white-headed ducks in the future are a continuing concern throughout the geographic range of this species.