Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 154, Issue 4, pp 889–900 | Cite as

Phylogeography and genetic diversity of the Robin (Erithacus rubecula) in the Azores Islands: Evidence of a recent colonisation

  • Pedro Rodrigues
  • Ricardo Jorge Lopes
  • Sergei V. Drovetski
  • Sandra Reis
  • Jaime A. Ramos
  • Regina Tristão da Cunha
Original Article


We present new insights into the phylogeography of the Robin, Erithacus rubecula, from the seven Azores Islands where it breeds, based on sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear genes from 35 individuals (five from each of the seven islands) as well as outgroup/comparison samples from Madeira, Canary Islands and Continental Western Palearctic (Europe and North Africa). To understand the level of concordance between the genetic data and morphometric variability, eight morphometric characters were analysed for 113 birds for the seven Azores Islands populations. Our results revealed that Robins from the Azores possess low genetic diversity and share their most common haplotype with Madeira and the Continental Western Palearctic Robins, which support the hypothesis of one recent founder event and a fast range expansion to most of the Azores Islands. Nevertheless, despite this lack of neutral genetic differentiation, morphological differences were found among islands, which could be attributed to natural selection processes. The morphological data show that birds from São Miguel had the longest wings and largest body mass, and that birds from Graciosa had the smallest bill length. This recent colonisation could be the reason for the absence of Robins in the westernmost islands of the Azores.


Robin Erithacus rubecula Azores Islands Phylogeography Biometrics 


Phylogeographie und genetische Diversität des Rotkehlchens ( Erithacus rubecula ) auf den Azoren: Hinweise auf eine kürzlich erfolgte Besiedlung

Wir stellen neue Erkenntnisse zur Phylogeographie des Rotkehlchens (Erithacus rubecula) auf den sieben Azoreninseln, auf denen es brütet, vor, die auf den Sequenzen mitochondrialer und nukleärer Gene von 35 Individuen (fünf von jeder Insel) sowie Außengruppen-/Vergleichsproben aus Madeira, den Kanaren und der kontinentalen westlichen Paläarktis (Europa und Nordafrika) basieren. Um das Ausmaß der Übereinstimmung zwischen den genetischen Daten und der morphometrischen Variabilität zu verstehen, haben wir acht morphometrische Merkmale für 113 Vögel aus den sieben Azoreninselpopulationen analysiert. Unsere Ergebnisse zeigten, dass Rotkehlchen von den Azoren eine niedrige genetische Diversität aufweisen und den häufigsten Haplotyp mit den Rotkehlchen aus Madeira und der kontinentalen westlichen Paläarktis teilen, was die Hypothese eines kürzlich erfolgten Besiedlungsereignisses und einer schnellen Ausweitung des Verbreitungsgebiets auf die meisten Azoreninseln stützt. Trotz dieses Mangels an neutraler genetischer Differenzierung wurden morphometrische Unterschiede zwischen den Inseln gefunden, die auf natürliche Selektionsprozesse zurückgeführt werden konnten. Die morphologischen Daten zeigen, dass Vögel aus São Miguel die längsten Flügel sowie die größte Körpermasse und Vögel aus Graciosa die kürzesten Schnäbel aufwiesen. Diese erst kürzlich erfolgte Besiedlung könnte der Grund dafür sein, dass Rotkehlchen auf den westlichsten Azoreninseln fehlen.



We would like to thank the Direção Regional do Ambiente dos Açores for their kind permission to capture birds and collect blood samples from the Azores (permission 119/2011/DRA). To Parque Natural da Madeira for the permission to take samples from Madeira (permission 01–A/2011/FAU/MAD). To Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e da Biodiversidade for the ring permission (152/2011). To Jan Lifjeld and the National Centre for Biosystematics team of the Natural History Museum of Oslo for their support during the field trip to Madeira. To Joana Micael and Roberto Resendes for their support in the field; to Paulo Tenreiro for collecting samples from Portugal; and to André Eloy, Associação de Juventude da ilha Graciosa, Atlânticoline, Bárbara Gravanita, Grupo Bensaude, EDA, Even Stensrud, Fernando Cunha, João Melo, José Marcelino, Pedro Domingues and Robin Kersten for their support along the Azores Islands. To Nicolle Mode and Therese Catanach for the English revision of this manuscript. P Rodrigues and RJ Lopes were supported by grant funding from FCT - Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (SFRH/BD/36084/2007 and SFRH/BPD/40786/2007 respectively). The study was also partially supported by FCT project PTDC/BIA-BEC/103435/2008 to S. Drovetski. All the conducted experiments comply with the current laws of Portugal and the authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 510 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro Rodrigues
    • 1
  • Ricardo Jorge Lopes
    • 2
  • Sergei V. Drovetski
    • 3
  • Sandra Reis
    • 2
  • Jaime A. Ramos
    • 4
  • Regina Tristão da Cunha
    • 1
  1. 1.CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBIO Laboratório Associado, Polo dos AçoresUniversidade dos AçoresPonta DelgadaPortugal
  2. 2.CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos da Universidade do Porto, InBIO Laboratório AssociadoUniversidade do PortoVairãoPortugal
  3. 3.Tromsø University MuseumTromsöNorway
  4. 4.Institute of Marine Research (IMAR/CMA), Department of Life SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal

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