Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a migratory shorebird that is listed as endangered in Canada and the U.S. Great Lakes and as threatened throughout the rest of its breeding and winter range. We undertook a comprehensive molecular-genetic investigation to (1) address subspecific taxonomy, (2) characterize population genetic structure, and (3) infer past bottlenecks and demographic processes in this species. Analyses included individuals from 23 U.S. states and Canadian provinces and were based on mitochondrial DNA sequences (580 base pairs, n = 245) and 8 nuclear microsatellite loci (n = 229). Our findings provide support for separate Atlantic and Interior subspecies (C. m. melodus and C. m. circumcinctus, respectively). Birds from the Great Lakes region were allied with the Interior subspecies and should be referred to as C. m. circumcinctus. Population genetic analyses illustrated stronger genetic structure among Atlantic than among Interior birds, which may reflect reduced natal- and breeding-site fidelity of Interior individuals. Furthermore, analyses suggested that Interior birds previously experienced genetic bottlenecks, whereas there was no evidence of such patterns in the Atlantic subspecies. We interpret these results in light of 25 years of range-wide census data. Overall, differences between Interior and Atlantic Piping Plovers may reflect differences in spatiotemporal stability of nesting habitat between regions.
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