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Population connectivity and traces of mitochondrial introgression in New Zealand black-billed gulls (Larus bulleri)

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posted on 2023-05-03, 20:50 authored by Claudia Mischler, Andrew Veale, Tracey Van StijnTracey Van Stijn, Rudiger BrauningRudiger Brauning, John McEwanJohn McEwan, Richard Maloney, Bruce Robertson
Black-billed gulls (Larus bulleri) are endemic to New Zealand and are suspected to be undergoing substantial population declines. They primarily breed on open gravel beds in braided rivers of the South Island—a habitat that is diminishing and becoming increasingly modified. Although management of this species is increasing, little has been published on their movements and demographics. In this study, both mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region domain I and nuclear single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were examined to help understand the connectivity and population structure of black-billed gulls across the country and to help inform management decisions. Mitochondrial DNA showed no population structure, with high haplotype and low nucleotide diversity, and analyses highlighted mitochondrial introgression with the closely related red-billed gulls (Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus). Nuclear DNA analyses, however, identified two groups, with Rotorua birds in the North Island being distinct from the rest of New Zealand, and isolation-by-distance evident across the South Island populations. Gene flow primarily occurs between nearby colonies with a stepwise movement across the landscape. The importance from a genetic perspective of the more isolated North Island birds (1.6% of total population) needs to be further evaluated. From our results, we infer that the South Island black-billed gull management should focus on maintaining several populations within each region rather than focusing on single specific colonies or river catchments. Future study is needed to investigate the genetic structure of populations at the northern limit of the species’ range, and identify the mechanisms behind, and extent of, the hybridisation between red-billed and black-billed gulls.


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© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title





Mischler, C., Veale, A., Van Stijn, T., Brauning, R., McEwan, J. C., Maloney, R., & Robertson, B. C. (2018). Population connectivity and traces of mitochondrial introgression in New Zealand black-billed gulls (Larus bulleri). Genes, 9(11), 544. doi:10.3390/genes9110544

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