Conservation Genetics

, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 999–1015 | Cite as

Population structure and loss of genetic diversity in the endangered white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala

  • Violeta Muñoz-Fuentes
  • Andy J. Green
  • Juan José Negro
  • Michael D. Sorenson


The white-headed duck is a globally threatened species native to the Palaearctic with a range extending from Spain in the west to the western edge of China in the east. Its populations have become fragmented and undergone major declines in recent decades. To study genetic differences between populations across the range and change in genetic diversity over time, we sequenced a portion of the mitochondrial DNA control region from 67 museum specimens (years 1861–1976) as well as 39 contemporary samples from Spain and seven from Greece (years 1992–2003). In the historical sample, we found a lack of significant genetic structure between populations in different areas. We found evidence that the species experienced a rapid expansion in the past, perhaps from glacial refugia centred around the Mediterranean following the last ice age. In Spain, the population went through a dramatic bottleneck in the 1970s and early 1980s, when only a few dozens individuals remained in the wild. Although population size has since recovered to a few thousand individuals, we found a highly significant loss of mitochondrial haplotype diversity between the historical and contemporary samples. Given ongoing declines in other areas, losses in genetic diversity that may reduce the adaptive potential of white-headed ducks in the future are a continuing concern throughout the geographic range of this species.


bottleneck mtDNA museum specimens Oxyura phylogeography white-headed duck waterfowl 


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We are extremely thankful to everybody who provided samples: José Luis Echevarrías, M. Ferrández, Héctor Garrido, Cati Gerique, Maria Panayotopoulou, Celia Sánchez, Esther Signer, Pablo Pereira, José Antonio Torres, Carlos Urdiales, and to the staff of the following museums: Sergei Sklyarenko, Almaty Institute of Zoology (Almaty, Kazakhstan); Paul Sweet, American Museum of Natural History (New York, USA); José Cabot, Estación Biológica de Doñana (Sevilla, Spain); Jeremiah Trimble, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (Cambridge, USA); Marco Zenatello, Collezione Museo INFS (Italy); Evgeny Bragin, Kostanay Natural Science Museum (Kostanay, Kazakhstan) and The Visitor’s Centre of Naurzum Zapvednik (Karamendy, Kazakhstan); Renate van den Elzen, Museum Alexander Koenig (Bonn, Germany); Eric Pasquet, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France); Jürgen Fiebig, Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin, Germany); Natural History Museum (Kazakhstan); Robert Prys-Jones and Mark Adams, Natural History Museum (Tring, UK); Per G. P. Ericson and Göran Frisk, Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (Stockholm, Sweden); Freddy Woog, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde (Stuttgart, Germany); Peter Lüps and Beatrice Bloechlinger, The Natural History Museum (Berne, Switzerland); Tineke G. Prins, The Zoological Museum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). This study was funded by La Consejería de Medio Ambiente de La Junta de Andalucía, Spain, a fellowship by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education to VMF, and a National Science Foundation grant to MDS. Helpful comments on the manuscript were provided by B. Hughes, D. M. Wilkinson, H. L. Gibbs and two anonymous reviewers. We dedicate this paper to the memory of the late Janet Kear, a pioneer in the research and conservation of waterfowl.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Violeta Muñoz-Fuentes
    • 1
  • Andy J. Green
    • 1
  • Juan José Negro
    • 1
  • Michael D. Sorenson
    • 2
  1. 1.Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC)SevillaSpain
  2. 2.Department of BiologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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