Conservation Genetics 6:743-757.
Due to declines in the Alaska breeding population, the Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri) was listed as threatened in North America in 1997. Periodic non-breeding in Russia and Alaska has hampered field-based assessments of behavioral patterns critical to recovery plans, such as levels of breeding site fidelity and movements among three regional populations: Atlantic-Russia, Pacific-Russia and Alaska. Therefore, we analyzed samples from across the species range with seven nuclear microsatellite DNA loci and cytochrome b mitochondrial (mt)DNA sequence data to infer levels of interchange among sampling areas and patterns of site fidelity. Results demonstrated low levels of population differentiation within Atlantic and Pacific nesting areas, with higher levels observed between these regions, but only for mtDNA. Bayesian analysis of microsatellite data from wintering and molting birds showed no signs of sub-population structure, even though band-recovery data suggests multiple breeding areas are present. We observed higher estimates of F-statistics for female mtDNA data versus male data, suggesting female-biased natal site fidelity. Summary statistics for mtDNA were consistent with models of historic population expansion. Lack of spatial structure in Steller’s eiders may result largely from insufficient time since historic population expansions for behaviors, such as natal site fidelity, to isolate breeding areas genetically. However, other behaviors such as the periodic non-breeding observed in Steller’s eiders may also play a more contemporary role in genetic homogeneity, especially for microsatellite loci.