US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Conserv Genet (2007) 8:1287-1309. DOI: 10.1007/s10592-006-9278-7


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%; FST 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%; FST 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.