Philopatry has long been assumed to structure populations of waterfowl and other species of birds genetically, especially via maternally transmitted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), yet other migratory behaviors and nesting ecology (use of ground vs. cavity sites) may also contribute to population genetic structure. We investigated the effects of migration and nesting ecology on the population genetic structure of two Holarctic waterfowl, the Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) and Common Merganser (M. merganser), using mtDNA control-region sequence data. Red-breasted Mergansers (a ground-nesting species) exhibited lower levels of population differentiation across their North American range, possibly as a result of post-Pleistocene range expansion and population growth. By contrast, Common Mergansers (a cavity-nesting species) breeding in western and eastern North America were strongly differentiated, as were continental groups in North America and Europe. Our hypothesis that population differentiation of breeding female Common Mergansers results from limited migration during non-breeding periods was not supported, in that equally heterogeneous mtDNA lineages were observed in males and females on several wintering areas. The interspecific differences in mtDNA patterns for these two closely related species may have resulted from factors related to nesting ecology (ground vs. cavity nesting) and responses to historical climate change.
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Vol. 126 • No. 4