Cerulean warblers (Dendroica cerulea) have experienced significant declines across their breeding range and presently exist in disjunct populations, largely because of extensive loss and fragmentation of their breeding and wintering habitat. Despite this overall decline, a recent north-eastern expansion of the breeding range has been proposed, and some researchers have suggested that the eastern Ontario population may be acting as a source population maintaining sink populations elsewhere. However, little is known about either the geographic distribution of genetic variation or dispersal in these birds. We assayed variation in five microsatellite loci and a 366 base-pair fragment of the mitochondrial control region among 154 cerulean warblers from five populations throughout the breeding range. No evidence of population genetic structure was found. Assignment tests suggested that six individuals were either inter-population migrants or descendants of recent migrants. The lack of population genetic structure is probably due to a combination of historical association and contemporary dispersal. Population decline does not appear to have reduced genetic variation yet. Overall results suggest that cerulean warblers from Ontario, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee should be considered a single genetic management unit for conservation.
Blood samples taken after caught with a mist net