Populations at risk: conservation genetics of kangaroo mice (Microdipodops) of the Great Basin Desert



Jessica E. Light, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, 210 Nagle Hall, College Station, TX 77843-2258.

Tel: 979-458-4357; Fax: 979-845-4096;

E-mail: jlight2@tamu.edu


The Great Basin Desert of western North America has experienced frequent habitat alterations due to a complex biogeographic history and recent anthropogenic impacts, with the more recent alterations likely resulting in the decline of native fauna and flora. Dark (Microdipodops megacephalus) and pallid (M. pallidus) kangaroo mice are ecological specialists found within the Great Basin Desert and are potentially ideal organisms for assessing ecosystem health and inferring the biogeographic history of this vulnerable region. Herein, newly acquired nuclear-encoded microsatellite loci were utilized to assess patterns of variation within and among spatially discrete groups of kangaroo mice and to evaluate gene flow, demographic trends, and genetic integrity. Results confirm that there are at least three genetically distinct units within M. megacephalus and two such units within M. pallidus. The three units of M. megacephalus appear to have different demographic histories, with effectively no gene flow among them since their divergence. Similarly, the two units of M. pallidus also appear to have experienced different demographic histories, with effectively no gene exchange. Contemporary effective population sizes of all groups within Microdipodops appear to be low (<500), suggesting that each genetic lineage may have difficulty coping with changing environmental pressures and hence may be at risk of extirpation. Results of this study indicate that each Microdipodops group should be recognized, and therefore managed, as a separate unit in an effort to conserve these highly specialized taxa that contribute to the diversity of the Great Basin Desert ecosystem.