Conservation Genetics

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 909–922 | Cite as

The genetic structure of the European breeding populations of a declining farmland bird, the ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana), reveals conservation priorities

  • Caroline Moussy
  • Raphaël Arlettaz
  • José Luis Copete
  • Svein Dale
  • Valery Dombrovski
  • Jaanus Elts
  • Romain Lorrillière
  • Riho Marja
  • Eric Pasquet
  • Markus Piha
  • Tuomas Seimola
  • Gunnar Selstam
  • Frédéric Jiguet
Research Article


Anthropogenic activities, such as agricultural intensification, caused large declines in biodiversity, including farmland birds. In addition to demographic consequences, anthropogenic activities can result in loss of genetic diversity, reduction of gene flow and altered genetic structure. We investigated the distribution of the genetic variation of a declining farmland and long-distance migratory bird, the ortolan bunting Emberiza hortulana, across its European breeding range to assess the impact of human-driven population declines on genetic diversity and structure in order to advise conservation priorities. The large population declines observed have not resulted in dramatic loss of genetic diversity, which is moderate to high and constant across all sampled breeding sites. Extensive gene flow occurs across the breeding range, even across a migratory divide, which contributes little to genetic structuring. However, gene flow is asymmetric, with the large eastern populations acting as source populations for the smaller western ones. Furthermore, breeding populations that underwent the largest declines, in Fennoscandia and Baltic countries, appear to be recently isolated, with no gene exchange occurring with the eastern or the western populations. These are signs for concern as declines in the eastern populations could affect the strength of gene flow and in turn affect the western populations. The genetic, and demographic, isolation of the northern populations make them particularly sensitive to loss of genetic diversity and to extinction as no immigration is occurring to counter-act the drastic declines. In such a situation, conservation efforts are needed across the whole breeding range: in particular, protecting the eastern populations due to their key role in maintaining gene flow across the range, and focussing on the northern populations due to their recent isolation and endangered status.


Endangered species Gene flow Genetic diversity Long-distance migrant 



This project was funded by a grant obtained from the LabEx BCDiv at the MNHN. It was part of a global research investigating the migration strategy of the species funded by the French Ministry of Ecology (Ministère de l’Écologie, du Développement Durable et de l’Énergie), Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs des Landes, Conseil Général des Landes, Conseil Régional d’Aquitaine, and Association de Défense des Chasses Traditionnelles à la Matole. This study was possible thanks to international collaboration and we are grateful to all participants to field work for collecting samples for genetic analysis. In particular, we offer our thanks to Maxime Zucca, Romain Provost, Benoit Fontaine, Anne-Christine Monnet, Simon Rolland, Pierre Fiquet, Lionel Courmont, Sébastien Blache, Dzmitry Zhurauliou, Pavel Kharytonau, Juha Honkala, Tuomo Jaakkonen, Johanna Lakka, Lars Erik Johannessen, Marc Pérez and Carlos Grande. We also would like to thank the staff at the Service de Systématique Moléculaire UMS2700 for their advice and assistance during molecular work, especially Regis Debruyne for his assistance in the shot-gun sequencing on the Ion Torrent platform and in HRM analysis, Jawad Abdelkrim for advice in processing the NGS reads and Josie Lambourdière for sharing her invaluable experience in developing and optimizing the microsatellite loci. PCR products were genotyped at the Gentyane platform, INRA Clermont-Ferrand, France.

Supplementary material

10592_2018_1064_MOESM1_ESM.docx (44 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 43 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Moussy
    • 1
  • Raphaël Arlettaz
    • 2
    • 3
  • José Luis Copete
    • 4
  • Svein Dale
    • 5
  • Valery Dombrovski
    • 6
  • Jaanus Elts
    • 7
    • 8
  • Romain Lorrillière
    • 1
  • Riho Marja
    • 9
  • Eric Pasquet
    • 10
  • Markus Piha
    • 11
  • Tuomas Seimola
    • 12
  • Gunnar Selstam
    • 13
  • Frédéric Jiguet
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre d’Ecologie et des Sciences de la ConservationUMR7204 MNHN - CNRS - Sorbonne UniversitéParisFrance
  2. 2.Division of Conservation Biology, Institute of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Valais Field StationSwiss Ornithological InstituteSionSwitzerland
  4. 4.Handbook of the Birds of the World AliveBarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource ManagementNorwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  6. 6.Institute of ZoologyNational Academy of SciencesMinskBelarus
  7. 7.Estonian Ornithological SocietyTartuEstonia
  8. 8.Department of Zoology, Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  9. 9.Estonian Environment AgencyTartuEstonia
  10. 10.UMR7205 ISYEB MNHN-CNRSParisFrance
  11. 11.Finnish Museum of Natural History – LUOMUSUniversity of HelsinkiFinland
  12. 12.Natural Resources Institute Finland – LUKEHelsinkiFinland
  13. 13.Department of Agricultural Research in Northern Sweden, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Dept of Molecular BiologyUniversity of UmeåUmeåSweden

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