U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service







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Kimble, S.J.A., B.S. Dorr, K.C. Hanson-Dorr, O.E. Rhodes, Jr., and T.L. DeVault. 2020. Migratory flyways may affect population structure in double-crested cormorants. The Journal of Wildlife Management 84(5):948-956. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.21848


Double‐crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) recovered from a demographic bottleneck so well that they are now considered a nuisance species at breeding and wintering grounds across the United States and Canada. Management of this species could be improved by refining genetic population boundaries and assigning individuals to their natal population. Further, recent radio‐telemetry data suggest the existence of Interior and Atlantic migratory flyways, which could reduce gene flow and result in substantial genetic isolation. In this study, we used 1,784 individuals collected across the eastern United States, a large panel of microsatellite markers developed for this species, and individuals banded as chicks and recaptured as adults to explore the effects of migratory flyways on population structure, quantify the genetic effects of demographic bottlenecks, and determine whether individuals could be assigned to their natal population based on genotype. We found evidence for genetic population division only along migratory flyways, no evidence of genetic bottlenecks, and mixed effectiveness of assignment tests. Our population structure findings suggest that gene flow is high across large scales; for example, individuals from New York, Minnesota, and Alabama are all in panmixia. We also found that traditional subspecies ranges may not be valid because >1 subspecies was present in single genetic populations. The lack of evidence for genetic bottlenecks also likely underscores the vagility of this species, suggesting that even during demographic bottlenecks, populations were not isolated from allelic exchange. Finally, the failure of assignment tests to consistently perform is likely due in part to imperfect a priori sampling of Atlantic and Interior chicks and the high vagility of adults. We conclude that the demographic bottleneck is not likely to have reduced genetic diversity, and that assignment tests remain unreliable for this species. We recommend double-crested cormorants be managed by flyway. Further development of genomic resources in this species could improve population subdivision resolution, improve assignment tests, and reveal further information on demographic histories.