Conservation Genetics

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 129–142 | Cite as

Small-scale genetic structure in an endangered wetland specialist: possible effects of landscape change and population recovery

  • Charles B. van ReesEmail author
  • J. Michael Reed
  • Robert E. Wilson
  • Jared G. Underwood
  • Sarah A. Sonsthagen
Research Article


The effects of anthropogenic landscape change on genetic population structure are well studied, but the temporal and spatial scales at which genetic structure can develop, especially in taxa with high dispersal capabilities like birds, are less well understood. We investigated population structure in the Hawaiian gallinule (Gallinula galeata sandvicensis), an endangered wetland specialist bird on the island of O`ahu (Hawai`i, USA). Hawaiian gallinules have experienced a gradual population recovery from near extinction in the 1950s, and have recolonized wetlands on O`ahu in the context of a rapidly urbanizing landscape. We genotyped 152 Hawaiian gallinules at 12 microsatellite loci and sequenced a 520 base-pair fragment of the ND2 region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from individuals captured at 13 wetland locations on O`ahu in 2014–2016. We observed moderate to high genetic structuring (overall microsatellite FST = 0.098, mtDNA FST = 0.248) among populations of Hawaiian gallinules occupying wetlands at very close geographic proximity (e.g., 1.5–55 km). Asymmetry in gene flow estimates suggests that Hawaiian gallinules may have persisted in 2–3 strongholds which served as source populations that recolonized more recently restored habitats currently supporting large numbers of birds. Our results highlight that genetic structure can develop in taxa that are expanding their range after severe population decline, and that biologically significant structuring can occur over small geographic distances, even in avian taxa.


Habitat fragmentation Metapopulation Connectivity Microsatellites Urbanization Moorhen 



Funding for this project was provided by the Tufts Institute of the Environment, Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Nuttall Ornithological Club, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Wilson Ornithological Society, Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, and Tufts Water Diplomacy IGERT (NSF 0966093). We are grateful to Kevin Sage, Meg Fowler, Sandra Talbot, Christy Haughey, and Lisa Pajot for lab management, logistics, and mentoring C. van Rees in laboratory techniques. We thank Marty Kawasaki, Annie Miller, Amanda Sandor, Alejandra Muñoz, and Matthew Pedrotti (Team Gallinule) and Aaron Nadig and Joy Browning (USFWS) for their invaluable work in the field. We also thank the Livable Hawai`i Kai Hui, Katie Doyle, Ati Jeffers-Fabro and Hawai`i DOFAW, Turtle Bay Resorts, Olomana Golf Links, the anonymous owners of a Lotus farm and of a Shrimp farm on Hawai`i’s North Shore, Hugo Devries and Cindy Turner for their help with capture, banding, and survey logistics. We are grateful to the U.S. Marine Corps Base Hawai`i, especially Lance Bookless and Todd Russell for their permission and assistance sampling birds at the Klipper golf course. This research used resources of the Core Science Analytics and Synthesis Advanced Research Computing program at the USGS. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the USFWS. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. We also thank John M. Pearce of the USGS Alaska Science Center and two anonymous reviewers for their insights and helpful suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles B. van Rees
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Michael Reed
    • 1
  • Robert E. Wilson
    • 2
  • Jared G. Underwood
    • 3
    • 4
  • Sarah A. Sonsthagen
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Alaska Science CenterU. S. Geological SurveyAnchorageUSA
  3. 3.Pacific Reefs National Wildlife Refuge ComplexU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceHonoluluUSA
  4. 4.Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife RefugeFremontUSA

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