Multilocus barcoding confirms the occurrence of Elegant Terns in Western Europe


We used sequences from one mitochondrial gene and six nuclear loci to confirm genetically the presumed identity of four large terns with an orange bill seen in Western Europe over the past decades. This multilocus genotyping (multilocus barcoding) approach confirmed that one bird was a Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis, as suspected based on its phenotype, and identified the three other birds as pure Elegant Terns Sterna elegans. This last result was again in accordance with the appearance of these birds even if their identity had long been considered as unproven. In comparison with traditional (single-locus) barcoding, our approach allowed us to unambiguously exclude that these birds were first-generation hybrids or backcrosses involving Elegant Terns or other species of orange-billed terns.


Multi-locus DNS-Barcoding bestätigt das Vorkommen der Schmuckseeschwalbe ( Sterna elegan s) in Westeuropa Wir benutzten Sequenzen eines mitochondrialen Gens und von Intron-Regionen aus sechs Kernloci, um mit molekulargenetischen Methoden die bereits vermutete Identität von vier großen Seeschwalben mit orangenen Schnäbeln zu bestätigen, die in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten in Westeuropa gesehen worden waren. Mit diesem “multi-locus Barcoding”-Ansatz zur Bestimmung des Genotyps konnte bestätigt werden, dass einer der Vögel eine Rüppellseeschwalbe (Sterna bengalensis), die anderen drei eindeutig Schmuckseeschwalben (Sterna elegans) waren. Dieses Ergebnis entsprach dem Auftreten dieser Vögel, wenngleich ihre Identität lange als unbewiesen gegolten hatte. Im Vergleich zum sonst üblichen (single-locus) Barcoding erlaubte uns unser Ansatz, eindeutig auszuschließen zu können, dass die Vögel Hybriden in erster Generation waren oder Rückkreuzungen von Schmuckseeschwalben oder anderen Seeschwalben-Arten mit orangenen Schnäbeln.

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We are very grateful to the following people who helped in various ways with sample collection: Jérome Fuchs and Eric Pasquet (National Museum of Natural History, Paris), Sharon M. Birks (Burke Museum of Naturel History of Seattle), Charlotte Francesiaz, Benjamin Vollot and Gilles Balança (Sandwich Tern, France), Charles Collins (Elegant Tern, USA), Arnaud Lenoble (Royal Tern, Guadeloupe), Lorien Pichegru (Crested Tern, South Africa), Abdulmaula Hamza (Lesser Crested Tern, Libya) and Clive Barlow (The Gambia). Marcio Efe and Eli Bridge helped with genotyping and shared unpublished sequences. We thank Juan Antonio Gómez for advice and Miguel Chardí and Francisco Javier García-Gans for field assistance in Valencia (Spain). Mathias Grandpierre (Société pour l’Etude et l’Aménagement de la Nature dans le Sud-Ouest) helped with fieldwork at the Banc d’Arguin (France). All the experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

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Correspondence to Paul Dufour.

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An erratum to this article is available at

Communicated by M. Wink.

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Appendix: sequences of the nuclear intron glyceraldehyde-3-phosphodehydrogenase (G3PDH)

Appendix: sequences of the nuclear intron glyceraldehyde-3-phosphodehydrogenase (G3PDH)

>Seq1 (organism = Sterna sandvicensis) S50, France, G3PDH


>Seq2 (organism = S. sandvicensis) S54, France, G3PDH


>Seq3 (organism = S. sandvicensis) S60, France,  G3PDH


>Seq4 (organism = S. sandvicensis) S61, France,  G3PDH


>Seq5 (organism = Sterna elegans) S64, USA, G3PDH


>Seq6 (organism = S. elegans) S67, UWBM69602, USA, G3PDH


>Seq7 (organism = S. elegans) S68, UWBM70563, USA, G3PDH


>Seq8 (organism = S. elegans) S69, UWBM69603, USA, G3PDH


>Seq9 (organism = S. elegans) S70, UWBM70562, USA, G3PDH


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Dufour, P., Pons, J., Collinson, J.M. et al. Multilocus barcoding confirms the occurrence of Elegant Terns in Western Europe. J Ornithol 158, 351–361 (2017).

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  • Genetic identification
  • Nuclear DNA
  • Hybridization
  • Long-range vagrancy