Conservation Genetics

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 343–357 | Cite as

Genetic diversity and divergence in the endangered Cape Verde warbler Acrocephalus brevipennis

  • Helena R. Batalha
  • David J. Wright
  • Iain Barr
  • Nigel J. Collar
  • David S. Richardson
Research Article


Genetic factors play an important role in the long-term persistence of populations and species, and conservation strategies should take such factors into account. We use neutral molecular markers to assess diversity and divergence between the three remaining island populations of a little-studied endemic passerine, the Cape Verde warbler Acrocephalus brevipennis. Variation at both microsatellite loci and the cytochrome b gene reveal low diversity within the species overall, but considerable divergence among the populations on Santiago, Fogo and São Nicolau islands. The genetic markers show a gradient of genetic diversity with population size, with the smallest population of S. Nicolau being the least diverse, and the largest, Santiago, the most diverse. The more geographically isolated population on S. Nicolau is also more divergent from Santiago and Fogo than these two are from each other. The Cape Verde warbler diverged from its sister species, the greater swamp warbler Acrocephalus rufescens, within the last million years, and the three populations became isolated from one another 165,000–199,000 years ago. There is also evidence of population bottlenecks, especially on S. Nicolau. This population seems to have decreased during the last century, with potential for further decreases and even extinction. As the three populations are genetically distinct, with no evidence of gene flow between them, we argue they should be treated as separate management units for the successful conservation of this species.


Microsatellites Cytochrome b Island passerine Endemic species Management units Macaronesia 



We thank Andrew Power, Jaelsa Moreira, Josh Jenkins Shaw, Torbjörn Blixt, Naya Sena, Jeroen Arnoys, INIDA and Natural Parks of Serra Malagueta, Fogo and Monte Gordo for help with fieldwork; Juan Carlos Illera, Martim Melo, Martin Haase, the University of Oslo Natural History Museum and the Seychelles Warbler Research Group for extra samples; Urban Olsson, Juan Carlos Illera and Lewis Spurgin for input on molecular work; and Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on the manuscript. Samples were collected under permits 36/2013 and 35/2014 issued by the General Direction for the Environment of the Republic of Cape Verde. This work was supported by a Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT Doctoral Research Grant SFRH/BD/84102/2012), through POPH funds from the European Social Fund (study design and data analysis), Rufford Foundation (Grant No. 13635-1), African Bird Club, BirdLife International, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (fieldwork), University of East Anglia and A. G. Leventis Foundation (molecular work) (Grant No. R201354).

Author contributions

DSR designed the study with input from IB and NJC. HRB, DSR, IB and NJC worked to raise the funding. HRB collected the samples, except where stated otherwise, did the molecular work and drafted the manuscript. HRB and DJW analysed the data with input from DSR. All authors had input into earlier drafts and agreed on the final manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This work has been approved by the BIO Ethical Review Committee of the University of East Anglia.

Supplementary material

10592_2016_909_MOESM1_ESM.docx (138 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 138 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helena R. Batalha
    • 1
  • David J. Wright
    • 1
  • Iain Barr
    • 1
  • Nigel J. Collar
    • 2
    • 3
  • David S. Richardson
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK
  2. 2.BirdLife InternationalCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Bird Group, Department of Life SciencesNatural History MuseumTringUK

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