Population genetic structure and colonisation of the western Antarctic Peninsula by the seabird tick Ixodes uriae
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Recent observations on the western Antarctic Peninsula have suggested that changing climatic conditions may be increasing pressure on breeding seabirds due to higher exploitation rates by the tick Ixodes uriae. Using data from 8 microsatellite markers and ticks from 6 Pygoscelis spp. colonies, we employed a population genetics approach to specifically test the hypothesis that I. uriae is expanding south-westward along the peninsula from the Subantarctic region. Contrary to expectations, tick genetic diversity was high within all colonies, and no remaining signal of colonisation events was evident. Although significant geographic genetic structure occurred among ticks from different colonies, these ectoparasites tended to belong to 2 major genetic groups, one found principally in south-western locations (Palmer Station area) and the other in more north-eastern areas (South Shetland Islands). More central colonies showed a mixture of ticks from each genetic group, suggesting that this area represents a hybridisation zone of ticks from 2 distinct origins. A subsequent clustering analysis, including ticks from 2 Subantarctic locations, did not reveal the source population for the northern peninsula group. Overall, our data refute the hypothesis of a recent south-westward expansion of I. uriae along the peninsula and suggest that this tick has been present at more southern latitudes for an extended period of time. Further studies on the distribution and genetic characteristics of this ectoparasite around Antarctica are now required to better understand the colonisation process and predict how changing environmental conditions may affect its presence and diversity in seabird colonies.