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Pellegrino I.,University of Piemonte Orientale | Negri A.,University of Piemonte Orientale | Boano G.,Natural History Museum of Carmagnola | Cucco M.,University of Piemonte Orientale | And 6 more authors.
Journal of Avian Biology

The little owl Athene noctua is a widespread species in Europe. This mainly sedentary owl experienced reduction in population sizes in some areas due to habitat loss and modification of the landscape. To assess the genetic structure of the populations of western and central Europe, we analysed 333 specimens from 15 geographical areas at 13 microsatellite loci. Statistical analyses and Bayesian clustering procedures detected two major genetically distinct clusters, the first distributed from Portugal to the Czech Republic and the second from the Balkans to Italy. The second cluster was further split into three groups, located in Italy, Sardinia and the Balkans. These groups match four previously-described mtDNA haplogroups, and probably originated from the isolation of little owl populations in Sardinia and in three glacial refugia (Iberia, south Italy and Balkans) during the ice ages. High genetic admixture was recorded in central and northern Europe, probably as a consequence of the expansion from the refugia during interglacial. The main colonization route originated from the Iberian Peninsula towards central and northern Europe. Contact zones with colonization events from Italy and the Balkans were detected respectively in northern Italy and central Europe. Genetic indices show the existence of moderate levels of genetic variability throughout Europe, although evidence of recent evolutionary bottlenecks was found in some populations. Estimation of migration rates and approximate Bayesian computations highlighted the most likely phylogeographical scenario for the current distribution of little owl populations. © 2015 Nordic Society Oikos. Source

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