MtDNA haplotypes differ in their probability of being eliminated by a mass die-off in an abundant seabird

S. V. Drovetski, A. S. Kitaysky, N. A. Mode, R. M. Zink, U. Iqbal, C. Barger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In this study, we take advantage of a natural experimenta 2004 mass die-off of the Common Murre in Alaska to determine whether closely related mtDNA haplotypes differ in their probability of being eliminated during such a short term but a marked event removing hundreds of thousands of individuals. We sequenced complete mtDNA ND2 gene (1041 bp) for 168 Common Murres sampled from seven breeding colonies across Alaska before the 2004 die-off and 127 dead murres washed ashore during the die-off. We found little mtDNA variation and lack of geographical structuring among the seven Common Murre breeding colonies in Alaska. A comparison of the single-dominant mtDNA haplotype's frequency between live murres sampled on breeding colonies before the die-off (73.2%; 95% confidence interval 66.3-79.9%) and dead murres sampled during the die-off (59.1%; 95% confidence interval 50.4-67.4%; Fisher's exact P0.01) showed that carriers of the dominant haplotype were significantly less likely to die than carriers of other haplotypes. At the same time, the ratio of non-synonymous to synonymous substitutions did not differ between live (10:35) and dead birds (18:34; Fisher's exact P0.26), indicating that non-synonymous substitutions were as likely to be eliminated as synonymous substitutions. These results are consistent with the possibility of positive selection on the dominant mtDNA haplotype during the die-off.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-33
Number of pages5
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Stuart Baird, Scott A Hatch, Robert M Suryan, Sandra L Talbot and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. This study was supported by grants from the EVOS Trustees Council and the North Pacific Research Board (award #320 to ASK).


  • common murre
  • mass die-off
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • natural selection
  • population cycling

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