Conservation Genetics

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 517–526 | Cite as

Historic DNA reveals contemporary population structure results from anthropogenic effects, not pre-fragmentation patterns

  • Lisa N. Tracy
  • Ian G. JamiesonEmail author
Research Article


Contemporary patterns of genetic structure among fragmented populations can either result from historic patterns or arise from human-induced fragmentation. Use of historic samples collected prior to fragmentation allows for the origin of genetic structure to be established and appropriate management steps to be determined. In this study, we compare historic and contemporary levels of genetic diversity and structure of an endangered passerine, the New Zealand mohua or yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala), using nuclear microsatellites. We found that a significant amount of allelic richness has been lost over the last 100 years. Close to half of this was due to extinction of birds from entire regions, but almost as much was due to loss of genetic diversity within extant populations. We found a pattern of isolation by distance among contemporary populations, which could have resulted from historic structure due to limited gene flow along a latitudinal cline. However, we found that minimal genetic structure existed historically. The pattern of increased structure over time was confirmed by factorial correspondence analysis. We conclude that the genetic structure apparent today resulted from anthropogenic effects of recent fragmentation and isolation. We emphasize the importance of assessing genetic structure of populations prior to their fragmentation, when determining the significance of contemporary patterns. This study highlights the growing importance of museum specimens as a tool in the conservation of threatened and endangered species.


Genetic structure Historic DNA Mohoua ochrocephala Microsatellites Genetic diversity Wildlife conservation 



We are grateful to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, including H. Edmonds, R. Cole, C. O’Donnell, G. Elliott, J. Kemp and especially to G. Loh and B. Lawrence for logistical support and collection of samples. We are also grateful to M. Efford, D. Dawson, R. Laws, R. Paterson, N. Babbage, B. Rhodes, B. Masuda, M. Somerville, G. Pickerell and D. Hegg for assistance in the field. Laboratory work was greatly facilitated by T. King and B. Star. We are indebted to S. Boessenkool for her advice and support in the laboratory, discussion of ideas and comments which greatly improved the manuscript. We thank all of the museums listed in Online Resource 1 for their willingness to contribute tissue samples. Funding for this research was provided by the Department of Conservation and Landcare Research (contract no. C09X0503), the University of Otago, Forest and Bird JS Watson Trust and N. Babbage of Mohua Inc. LNT was supported by the University of Otago Postgraduate Scholarship and Publishing Bursary. Permits to conduct this research included Department of Conservation research permits (SO-21285-FAU) and a University of Otago Animal Ethics permit (87/05).

Supplementary material

10592_2010_158_MOESM1_ESM.doc (318 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 317 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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