Central-West Siberian-breeding Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) segregate in two morphologically distinct flyway populations

Roeland Bom*, J.R. Conklin, Yvonne Verkuil, Jose A. Alves, Jimmy de Fouw, Anne Dekinga, Chris J. Hassell, Raymond Klaassen, Andy Y. Kwarteng, Eldar Rakhimberdiev, Afonso Rocha, Job ten Horn, T. Lee Tibbitts, Pavel S. Tomkovich, Reginald Victor, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Long-distance migratory species often include multiple breeding populations, with distinct migration routes, wintering areas and annual-cycle timing. Detailed knowledge on population structure and migratory connectivity provides the basis for studies on the evolution of migration strategies and for species conservation. Currently, five subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica have been described. However, with two apparently separate breeding and wintering areas, the taxonomic status of the subspecies L. l. taymyrensis remains unclear. Here we compare taymyrensis Bar-tailed Godwits wintering in the Middle East and West Africa, respectively, with respect to migration behaviour, breeding area, morphology and population genetic differentation in mitochondrial DNA. By tracking 52 individuals from wintering and staging areas over multiple years, we show that Bar-tailed Godwits wintering in the Middle East bred on the northern West-Siberian Plain (n = 19), while birds from West Africa bred further east, mostly on the Taimyr Peninsula (n = 12). The two groups differed significantly in body size and shape, and also in the timing of both northward and southward migrations. However, they were not genetically differentiated, indicating that the phenotypic (i.e. geographical, morphological and phenological) differences arose either very recently or without current reproductive isolation. We conclude that the taymyrensis taxon consists of two distinct populations with mostly non-overlapping flyways, which warrant treatment as separate taxonomic units. We propose to distinguish a more narrowly defined taymyrensis subspecies (i.e. the Bar-tailed Godwits wintering in West Africa and breeding on Taimyr), from a new subspecies (i.e. the birds wintering in the Middle East and breeding on the northern West-Siberian Plain).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468–485
Number of pages18
Early online date16-Oct-2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • body shape
  • body size
  • conservation
  • genetic population structure
  • migration
  • shorebirds
  • subspeciation

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