Maria Wheeler

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 2014


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Biological Sciences


Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Committee Chair

Brady Porter

Committee Member

Michael Seaman

Committee Member

Kyle Selcer

Committee Member

Todd Katzner


Bald Eagles, Conservation genetics, Golden Eagles, Reintroduction, Translocation, Wildlife conservation


In the past half-century, two raptors with similar life histories, bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos canadensis) were the subjects of either broad-scale reintroduction or translocation projects in North America. These two different conservation approaches provided the framework for a retrospective natural experiment. The goal of my research was to determine the effects of these two conservation management approaches on the genetic population structure of each species. Methods included sequencing cyt b mtDNA and genotyping 10 microsatellite loci for contemporary and historic golden eagles and bald eagles. Contemporary samples were collected from captive and wild birds, and historic samples were collected from museum specimens preserved before 1980. We inferred pre- and post-translocation population structure based on genotypic data using Bayesian analysis, multiple indices of genetic diversity, and principal coordinated analysis. Results indicate that both contemporary (n=146 individuals) and historic (n=55 individuals) golden eagle populations across North America lack phylogeographic structure. This suggests the translocations did not have a significant impact on the genetic population structure of golden eagles. However, bald eagle microsatellite data suggested the presence of slight genetic cline in historic populations (n=23 individuals) from the northwest to the southeast--a pattern that is not currently observed in contemporary populations (n=82 individuals). The contemporary bald eagle population's genetic structure reflects the mixed genetic origins of extant birds given their reintroduction history. Comparing the results of these two species demonstrates different potential outcomes of conservation translocations and suggests the value of genetic analyses in conservation management plans.