High vagility facilitates population persistence and expansion prior to the Last Glacial Maximum in an antarctic top predator: The Snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea)

Cecilia Carrea, Christopher P. Burridge, Barbara Wienecke, Louise M. Emmerson, Duanne White, Karen J. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: Pleistocene glacial cycles have had profound effects on the distribution and genetic diversity of high latitude species, which can vary with species-specific traits, such as vagility. Demographic responses of antarctic flying seabirds to the same events remain unassessed. We addressed this knowledge gap by studying the genetic population connectivity and demographic history of a flying seabird endemic to Antarctica, the Snow petrel. We hypothesize that their high vagility due to flight may represent an advantage over non-flying seabirds in enduring past climate variation. Location: Approximately 3,000 km of coastline in East Antarctica, covering three areas in Mac. Robertson Land, Princess Elizabeth Land and Wilkes Land. An inland location was also sampled at the Prince Charles Mountains, Mac. Robertson Land. Taxon: Snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea). Methods: We sampled 93 individuals and sequenced a total of 5,412 base pairs, including two mitochondrial genes, four anonymous nuclear loci and a nuclear intron. We used frequentist and Bayesian approaches to examine population genetic structuring and an Extended Bayesian Skyline Plot method to infer the demographic history of the species in the study area. In addition, evidence of exposed bedrock during glacial periods was summarized in maps of the studied area representing potential refugia for the species. Results: Differentiation indexes, genetic clustering and haplotype networks suggest long-term population connectivity for Snow petrels across the study area, with no evidence for reliction into refugia that were genetically isolated. Significantly, population expansions pre-dated the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), but only where there was evidence of ice-free areas during this period. Main conclusions: The high vagility of Snow petrels may have been advantageous for access to foraging areas and supported large populations despite the harsh conditions during the LGM. Our results highlight that species-specific traits can exert a strong influence on demographic responses to the same environmental events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-453
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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