Comparative mitochondrial genetics of North American and Eurasian mergansers with an emphasis on the endangered scaly-sided merganser (Mergus squamatus)
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The scaly-sided merganser, Mergus squamatus, is considered one of the most threatened sea duck species in the Palearctic with limited breeding and wintering distribution in China and Russia. To provide information for future conservation efforts, we sequenced a portion of the mitochondrial (mt) DNA control region in four species of mergansers and three additional sea duck taxa to characterize the evolutionary history of the scaly-sided merganser, infer population trends that may have led to its limited geographic distribution, and to compare indices of genetic diversity among species of mergansers. Scaly-sided mergansers exhibit substantially lower levels of mtDNA genetic diversity (h = 0.292, π = 0.0007) than other closely related sea ducks and many other avian taxa. The four haplotypes observed differed by a single base pair suggesting that the species has not experienced a recent population decline but has instead been at a low population level for some time. A phylogenetic analysis placed the scaly-sided merganser basal to North American and European forms of the common merganser, M. merganser. Our inclusion of a small number of male samples doubled the number of mtDNA haplotypes observed, suggesting that additional genetic variation likely exists within the global population if there is immigration of males from unsampled breeding areas.
KeywordsHaplotype diversity Waterfowl Scaly-sided merganser mtDNA Phylogeny
Field work was supported through the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Rufford Small Grant Program, and the Forestry Bureau COA of Taiwan. A. Ramey, D. Derksen, and M. Kuro-o provided comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.
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