Pelagic seabirds are highly mobile, reducing the likelihood of allopatric speciation where disruption of gene flow between populations is caused by physically insurmountable, extrinsic barriers. Spatial segregation during the non-breeding season appears to provide an intrinsic barrier to gene flow among seabird populations that otherwise occupy nearby or overlapping regions during breeding, but how this is achieved remains unclear. Here we show that the two genetically distinct populations of Cook's petrel (Pterodroma cookii) exhibit transequatorial separation of non-breeding ranges at contemporary (ca. 2-3 yrs) and historical (ca. 100 yrs) time scales. Segregation during the non-breeding season per se appears as an unlikely barrier to gene flow. Instead we provide evidence that habitat specialization during the non-breeding season is associated with breeding asynchrony which, in conjunction with philopatry, restricts gene flow. Habitat specialization during breeding and non-breeding likely promotes evolutionary divergence between these two populations via local adaptation
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