Conservation Genetics

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 823–836 | Cite as

Phylogeography and population genetic structure of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Dacey M. MercerEmail author
  • Susan M. Haig
  • Daniel D. Roby
Research Article


We examined the genetic structure of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) across their range in the United States and Canada. Sequences of the mitochondrial control region were analyzed for 248 cormorants from 23 breeding sites. Variation was also examined at eight microsatellite loci for 409 cormorants from the same sites. The mitochondrial and microsatellite data provided strong evidence that the Alaskan subspecies (P. a. cincinnatus) is genetically divergent from other populations in North America (net sequence divergence = 5.85 %; ΦST for mitochondrial control region = 0.708; FST for microsatellite loci = 0.052). Historical records, contemporary population estimates, and field observations are consistent with recognition of the Alaskan subspecies as distinct and potentially of conservation interest. Our data also indicated the presence of another divergent lineage, associated with the southwestern portion of the species range, as evidenced by highly unique haplotypes sampled in southern California. In contrast, there was little support for recognition of subspecies within the conterminous U.S. and Canada. Rather than genetically distinct regions corresponding to the putative subspecies [P. a. albociliatus (Pacific), P. a. auritus (Interior and North Atlantic), and P. a. floridanus (Southeast)], we observed a distribution of genetic variation consistent with a pattern of isolation by distance. This pattern implies that genetic differences across the range are due to geographic distance, rather than discrete subspecific breaks. Although three of the four traditional subspecies were not genetically distinct, possible demographic separation, habitat differences, and documented declines at some colonies within the regions, suggests that the Pacific and possibly North Atlantic portions of the breeding range may warrant differential consideration from the Interior and Southeast breeding regions.


Double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus Mitochondrial DNA Microsatellite Population genetics Phylogeography 



We thank the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center (FRESC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, and Bonneville Power Administration for providing funding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Wildlife Service were all instrumental in facilitating and obtaining cormorant samples. Many individuals contributed samples to this study, and we are grateful to everyone who provided samples or assisted with sample collection. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Supplementary material

10592_2013_477_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dacey M. Mercer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susan M. Haig
    • 2
  • Daniel D. Roby
    • 3
  1. 1.Oregon State UniversityNewportUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterCorvallisUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological Survey-Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and WildlifeOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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