Exploring the patterns of genetic structure in the context of geographical and phenotypic variation is important to understand the evolutionary processes involved in speciation. We investigated population and subspecies differentiation in the Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, a high latitude wader that breeds in arctic and temperate zones from northeast Canada across Eurasia to the Russian Far East. Three subspecies, hiaticula, tundrae and psammodromus, are currently widely recognised, whereas a fourth subspecies, kolymensis, has been proposed based on geographic isolation and phenotypic differences. We genotyped 173 samples from eleven Common Ringed Plover breeding sites, representing all four putative subspecies, at eight polymorphic microsatellite loci to examine the patterns of population and subspecies differentiation. Bayesian clustering identified three genetic clusters among samples, corresponding to the breeding sites of the three currently recognised subspecies. The existence of the subspecies kolymensis was not supported. We also detected the presence of a previously unknown hybridisation zone extending from Northern Scandinavia to Belarus. Differentiation of the subspecies tundrae and hiaticula most likely occurred in allopatry on the Eurasian continent during past glaciation events, followed by population expansion leading to colonisation of Iceland and Greenland. The lack of genetic differentiation within the tundrae subspecies is consistent with ongoing range expansion and high gene flow maintained through migratory behaviour. We discuss the importance of historic climate changes, migratory behaviour and mating system on shaping the observed pattern of genetic differentiation.
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Vol. 106 • No. 2