Marine Biology

, Volume 153, Issue 6, pp 1113–1125 | Cite as

Morphological and molecular variation within an ocean basin in wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus)

  • Darren R. PeckEmail author
  • Wesley J. Bancroft
  • Bradley C. Congdon
Research Article


Micro-evolutionary processes that underpin genetic and morphological variation in highly mobile pelagic vertebrates are virtually unknown. Previous findings preferentially invoke vicariant isolation due to large-scale physical barriers such as continental landmasses, followed by genetic drift. However increasingly, evidence for divergence by non-random processes (e.g. selection, plasticity) is being presented. Wedge-tailed shearwaters are wide-ranging seabirds with breeding colonies located such that they experience a variety of environmental pressures and conditions. Previous work on this species has provided evidence of inter-colony divergence of adult morphology and foraging modes, as well as chick developmental patterns, suggesting that reinforcement among colonies is possible. In order to evaluate the micro-evolutionary processes driving this observed variation, our study compared patterns of gene flow with morphological and environmental variation among four colonies of wedge-tailed shearwater breeding within the Indo-Pacific Ocean basin. Estimates of gene flow differed according to the genetic marker used; most likely, this is a function of different mutation rates. Nuclear introns suggest that gene flow among wedge-tailed shearwater breeding colonies within the Indo-Pacific Ocean basin is substantial, however microsatellite markers imply that gene flow is reduced. In general, levels of genetic divergence were relatively low and did not correlate with geographic distance, morphological distance or environmental differences (sea-surface temperature and chlorophyll a concentration) among colonies. We suggest that genetic drift alone is unlikely to be the major source of morphological variation seen in this species. Instead, we propose that non-random processes (selection, plasticity) underpin morphological diversity seen in this and possibly other seabird species.


Gene Flow Markov Chain Monte Carlo Discriminant Function Analysis Breeding Coloni Culmen Length 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Our sincere thanks to the following people and institutions who provided logistic assistance during this project: Y. Peck, T. Wilson, S. Thompson, I. Hutton, D. Wilcox, C. Bagnato, the staff of the Heron Island Research Station and the Lord Howe Island Board. This research was funded by a James Cook University Merit Research Grant (MRG-02/0026), The Ecological Society of Australia, Reef CRC and Australian Geographic. Work was authorized under New South Wales NPWS License number S10914, QNPWS Permits C6/000175/00/SAA and C6/000195/01/SAA, and James Cook University-Ethics Approval A627_00.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Darren R. Peck
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Wesley J. Bancroft
    • 2
  • Bradley C. Congdon
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  2. 2.School of Animal BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO EntomologyCanberraAustralia

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