Conservation Genetics

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 893–905 | Cite as

Contrasting genetic structuring between colonies of the World’s smallest penguin, Eudyptula minor (Aves: Spheniscidae)

  • Rebecca L. Overeem
  • Amanda J. Peucker (nee Mitchelson)
  • Christopher M. Austin
  • Peter Dann
  • Christopher P. Burridge
Research Article


The Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor, is a seabird that nests in colonies throughout New Zealand and southern Australia. Individuals from different colonies in southeast Australia differ significantly in morphology and ecology, suggesting that some genetic structuring may exist among colonies. In contrast, the marking of individuals with flipper bands has revealed some, albeit infrequent, movement between colonies. To determine the extent of genetic structuring, we tested the null hypothesis of substantial gene flow within southeast Australia by examining patterns of genetic variation across seven colonies separated by up to 1,500 km. Phylogeographic structuring was absent for mitochondrial control region sequences (2–3 individuals per colony). Microsatellite allele frequencies at five loci and mitochondrial haplotype frequencies (50 individuals per colony) were also homogenous among the majority of colonies sampled, although two colonies at the western periphery of the sampling range were distinct from those to the east. The genetic homogeneity among the majority of colonies can be explained by low but consistent contemporary gene flow among them, or a recent founder event in Bass Strait following the last marine transgression. The genetic break towards the western end of the sampling distribution appears best explained by differences in sea surface temperature and, consequentially breeding phenology, the latter hindering genetically effective migration.


Breeding phenology Sea surface temperature Microsatellite Mitochondrial DNA Natal philopatry 



Funding for the project was provided via an ARC grant (LP0453481) to CPB, PD and CMA, a School of Life and Environmental Sciences seeding grant to CPB, and a Deakin University Post-graduate scholarship, Holsworth Wildlife Research Grant and Western Coastal Board Grant to RLO. Samples were collected under Deakin Animal Welfare permit A10/2003 and The Department of Natural Resources and Environment permit 10002229. We thank many research volunteers for assistance with the collection of samples, including but not limited to: Natasja Overeem, Tanya Murray, Tony Trethway, Roubin Walker, Dean Hartwell, Claire McClusky, Alicia Phillips, Cynthia Bracken, Zoe Hogg, Leanne Renwick, Andre Chiaradia, Ros Jessop, Sally Williamson, Tony Symess and members of the St. Kilda Penguin Study Group. Peter Unmack generously provided the template for Fig. 1. Dr. A. Bunce (School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University) assisted with the design of the project. Sanne Boessenkool (University of Otago) and two anonymous reviewers made suggestions for improvement of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca L. Overeem
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amanda J. Peucker (nee Mitchelson)
    • 1
  • Christopher M. Austin
    • 1
    • 3
  • Peter Dann
    • 2
  • Christopher P. Burridge
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Life and Environmental SciencesDeakin University WarrnamboolAustralia
  2. 2.Phillip Island Nature ParkCowesAustralia
  3. 3.School of Science and Primary IndustriesCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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