Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 2105–2120 | Cite as

East–west genetic differentiation in Musk Ducks (Biziura lobata) of Australia suggests late Pleistocene divergence at the Nullarbor Plain

  • P.-J. Guay
  • R. T. Chesser
  • R. A. Mulder
  • A. D. Afton
  • D. C. Paton
  • K. G. McCracken
Research Article


Musk Ducks (Biziura lobata) are endemic to Australia and occur as two geographically isolated populations separated by the Nullarbor Plain, a vast arid region in southern Australia. We studied genetic variation in Musk Duck populations at coarse (eastern versus western Australia) and fine scales (four sites within eastern Australia). We found significant genetic structure between eastern and western Australia in the mtDNA control region (ΦST = 0.747), one nuclear intron (ΦST = 0.193) and eight microsatellite loci (FST = 0.035). In contrast, there was little genetic structure between Kangaroo Island and adjacent mainland regions within eastern Australia. One small population of Musk Ducks in Victoria (Lake Wendouree) differed from both Kangaroo Island and the remainder of mainland eastern Australia, possibly due to genetic drift exacerbated by inbreeding and small population size. The observed low pairwise distance between the eastern and western mtDNA lineages (0.36%) suggests that they diverged near the end of the Pleistocene, a period characterised by frequent shifts between wet and arid conditions in central Australia. Our genetic results corroborate the display call divergence and Mathews’ (Austral Avian Record 2:83–107, 1914) subspecies classification, and confirm that eastern and western populations of Musk Duck are currently isolated from each other.


Arid zone Microsatellite Mitochondrial DNA Nuclear intron Nullarbor Plain Waterfowl 



Our research was supported by funding from the Department of Zoology and the Faculty of Science of the University of Melbourne, le Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies, the Hermon Slade Foundation, the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, Birds Australia, the M.A. Ingram Trust, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, College of Agriculture, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Board of Regents, Museum of Natural Science, and School of Renewable Natural Resources. We thank the South Australia Department of Environment and Heritage and Wildlife personnel for their assistance with fieldwork and the following institutions for allowing access to their tissue collections and/or for allowing us to take samples from study skins and/or skeletons: The Australian Museum, the Bourne Bird Museum, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems––Australian National Wildlife Collection, the Department of Ornithology of the American Museum of Natural History, Museum Victoria, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, the Queensland Museum, the South Australian Museum, the Tasmanian Museum, the University of Alaska Museum and the Western Australian Museum. J. Van Remsen and S. Taylor provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Blood samples were collected under the University of Melbourne Faculty of Science Animal Experimentation and Ethics Committee Register 02088, 04064, 05122, 06186, permits 10002458, 10003407, and 10004007, from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria and permits SF005117, SF005760, SF006080 and SF006659 from the Department of Environment and Conservation Western Australia. The use of trade, product, industry or firm names or products is for informative purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Government or the U.S. Geological Survey.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • P.-J. Guay
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. T. Chesser
    • 3
    • 7
  • R. A. Mulder
    • 1
  • A. D. Afton
    • 4
  • D. C. Paton
    • 5
  • K. G. McCracken
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.School of Engineering and Science, Institute for Sustainability and InnovationVictoria University, St-AlbansMelbourne MCAustralia
  3. 3.Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO Sustainable EcosystemsCanberraAustralia
  4. 4.U.S. Geological Survey, Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  5. 5.School of Earth and Environmental ScienceUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  6. 6.Department of Biology and Wildlife, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska MuseumUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  7. 7.U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA

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