Molecular genetic markers in the analysis of seabird bycatch populations

Molecular genetic markers in the analysis of seabird bycatch populations

S.V. Edwards, M.C. Silva, T. Burg, V. Friesen, and K.I. Warheit

Molecular genetic markers in the analysis of seabird bycatch populationsThis is part of Seabird Bycatch: Trends, Roadblocks, and Solutions
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In the past 10 years a variety of molecular markers, each with particular strengths and weaknesses for population analysis, have been adopted by population geneticists and wildlife managers. These markers are powerful tools for supplementing management and conservation strategies for seabirds commonly entangled or hooked during fishing operations (bycatch seabirds). We review the biology of several types of markers, including mitochondrial DNA, nuclear introns, and microsatellites, and their utility in the context of seabird bycatch. These markers can serve a variety of important functions in understanding the origin of bycatch populations, the impact of bycatch on genetic variation within source populations, and the identification of bycatch specimens that are otherwise unidentifiable. We illustrate these concepts with case studies from four seabird species: Black-footed Albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes), Wandering Albatrosses
(Diomedea exulans), Common Murres (Uria aalge), and Marbled Murrelets (Brachyrhamphus marmoratus). However, the power of molecular markers to help in the development of seabird management plans will depend on the size and geographic structure of the affected populations. If populations are large and well connected by high rates of gene flow, molecular markers may prove ineffective in identifying source populations of bycatch birds. Nonetheless, the ability to serve as individual-specific "color-bands" for birds and the emergence of rapid genotyping of individuals make molecular markers a crucial component of any large-scale conservation effort for bycatch seabirds. Both the storage of salvaged bycatch specimens in museum collections as vouchers and resources for genetic analysis, and further research on the geographic structure of colonial seabird species, will improve the ability of genetics to help solve bycatch problems.

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