Conservation Genetics

, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp 1287–1309 | Cite as

Conservation genetics of snowy plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) in the Western Hemisphere: population genetic structure and delineation of subspecies

  • W. Chris Funk
  • Thomas D. Mullins
  • Susan M. Haig
Research Article


We examined the genetic structure of snowy plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) in North America, the Caribbean, and the west coast of South America to quantify variation within and among breeding areas and to test the validity of three previously recognized subspecies. Sequences (676 bp) from domains I and II of the mitochondrial control region were analyzed for 166 snowy plovers from 20 breeding areas. Variation was also examined at 10 microsatellite loci for 144 snowy plovers from 14 breeding areas. The mtDNA and microsatellite data provided strong evidence that the Puerto Rican breeding group is genetically divergent from sites in the continental U.S. (net sequence divergence = 0.38%; F ST for microsatellites = 0.190). Our data also revealed high levels of differentiation between sites from South America and North America (net sequence divergence = 0.81%; F ST for microsatellites = 0.253). In contrast, there was little genetic structure among breeding sites within the continental U.S. Our results suggest that snowy plovers in Florida should be considered part of C. a. nivosus (rather than part of C. a. tenuirostris, where they are currently placed), whereas snowy plovers from Puerto Rico should be considered part of C. a. tenuirostris. Snowy plovers in South America should remain a separate subspecies (C. a. occidentalis). Although U.S. Pacific and Gulf Coast breeding areas were not genetically distinct from other continental U.S. sites, demographic isolation, unique coastal habitats, and recent population declines suggest they warrant special concern.


Snowy plover Microsatellites MtDNA Subspecies Population structure 



We thank A. Archuleta, K. Brennan, S. Cardiff, K. Castelein, M. Colwell, B. Cosler, D. Dittmann, R. Estelle, K. Fahy, J. Gerwin, L. Gorman, S. Hackett, C. Hallet, L. Hanauska, D. Lauten, A. Musche, M.P. Nieto, G. Page, A. Powell, P. Sanzenbacher, M. Stern, R. Swift, O. Taft, J. Van Remsen, J. Whittier, and D. Wilson for collecting tissue samples. Logistical support was provided by Cabo Rojo, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Quivira, and Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuges, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Florida Division of Recreation and Parks, Gulf Island National Seashore, Eglin Air Force Base, Louisiana Museum of Natural History, Texas Parks and Wildlife Division, Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve, Bureau of Land Management Salt Lake District Office, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Summer Lake Wildlife Area. We are grateful to C. Küpper for sharing primer sequences; B. Bowen, E. Elliott-Smith, S. Oyler-McCance, S. Talbot, and two anonymous reviewers for providing comments on earlier drafts of this paper; P. Martin for discussions regarding subspecies issues; and USFWS (regions 1 and 4), USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, and the USGS Science Support Program for providing funding for this work. Views expressed in this paper are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USGS.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Chris Funk
    • 1
  • Thomas D. Mullins
    • 1
  • Susan M. Haig
    • 1
  1. 1.USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterCorvallisUSA

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