Genetic diversity of the great bustard in Iberia and Morocco: risks from current population fragmentation
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- Alonso, J.C., Martín, C.A., Alonso, J.A. et al. Conserv Genet (2009) 10: 379. doi:10.1007/s10592-008-9605-2
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We studied the genetic diversity of great bustards (Otis tarda) in Iberia and Morocco, the main stronghold of this globally endangered species. Samples were collected from 327 individuals covering most of the distribution range within the study area. Sequence variation in a 657 bp fragment of the mtDNA control region revealed 20 variable sites defining 22 haplotypes, two of them exclusive to Morocco. Genetic diversity showed marked regional differences (π = 0–0.53, h = 0–0.89). Multidimensional scaling analysis based on FST values showed a clear division between Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula, with no evidence of current gene flow between them. Our results suggest that Morocco, where few matrilines have persisted to present, was colonized from Iberia thousands of years ago. Last century reports suggest dispersal through Gibraltar, when the species was more abundant at both sides of the Strait but later population declines and the Strait’s barrier effect have favoured current genetic isolation. Within Iberia, only the most peripheral populations (Navarra, Aragón and Andalusia) differed significantly from the main ones in central Spain. The first two showed extremely low genetic diversity and are probably threatened by inbreeding depression. Diversity was higher in Andalusia, where three exclusive haplotypes were found, suggesting some degree of isolation from other populations. Andalusia and Morocco could be regarded as separate management units which hold a significant proportion of the current genetic diversity and thus deserve urgent conservation measures.