Genetic variation within and among populations is a result of past and ongoing processes. Among the most important of such processes are dispersal, habitat fragmentation and selection. This thesis use neutral genetic variation as a tool to investigate these processes in three bird species.
In the Siberian jay, the timing of dispersal is dependent on social dominance among siblings. Mark-recapture data, radio-tracking and genetic variation was used to investigate whether timing of dispersal had an effect on dispersal distance. The results show that early dispersing individuals also disperse longer. In the same species, genetic correlation between neighbours was used to find areas with high production of philopatric individuals, which could be indicative of high habitat quality.
Great snipe populations in northern Europe have a breeding range divided into two regions. A QST-FST approach was applied to study variation in selection between regions. Differentiation between the regions in neutral molecular markers was low, indicating high gene flow, or short time available for neutral divergence. Morphological divergence between the regions was high, and QST > FST, which indicates divergent selection. Thus, neutral genetic markers can be misleading in identifying evolutionary significant units, and the QST-FST approach might be valuable to identify targets for conservation.
Rock ptarmigan, or its ancestors, originated in Beringia, and spread throughout the Holarctic region. Their distribution has subsequently been affected by glaciations, most likely leading to withdrawals and re-colonisations. Neutral genetic variation among five populations around the northern Atlantic was investigated. There was strong genetic structure among the populations, and evidence that Scandinavian rock ptarmigan has been isolated from other populations for considerable time. Rock ptarmigan in Svalbard showed slightly lower genetic variation than others, and comparisons with other studies suggested an eastern colonisation route to Svalbard.