Conservation status of the White-Bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster in Australia determined using mtDNA control region sequence data.
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Considered to have a declining world population, concern has been expressed in recent years over the conservation status of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster (Gmelin, 1788) within Australia. We used mitochondrial (mtDNA) control region sequence data to investigate the current distribution of genetic variation in this species at the continental level and within and between specified regional units. We were specifically interested in identifying breaks in genetic connectivity between the west and east of the continent and between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. We also investigated the likelihood of a bottleneck at the time of colonisation, and propose hypotheses regarding colonisation history. Sequence data were obtained from 128 individuals describing 15 haplotypes. Overall, diversity was low and AMOVA results failed to provide any significant level of genetic subdivision between regions. We suggest that the population expanded from a bottleneck approximately 160,000 years ago during the late Pleistocene, and spread throughout the continent through a contiguous range expansion. There is insufficient evidence to suggest division of the population into different units for conservation management purposes based on the theoretical definition of the 'evolutionary significant unit'. It is clear from the analysis that there are signatures of both historical and contemporary processes affecting the current distribution. Additional sampling and confirmation of the perceived pattern of population structure using a nuclear marker is recommended to validate conservation monitoring and management at a continental scale.