Effects of structural connectivity on fine scale population genetic structure of muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus



Sophie Laurence, Department of Biology, Laurentian University, 935 Ramsey Lake Road, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6. Tel: +705 675 1151 (4496); Fax: +705 671 4859; E-mail: slaurence@laurentian.ca


In heterogeneous landscapes, physical barriers and loss of structural connectivity have been shown to reduce gene flow and therefore lead to population structuring. In this study, we assessed the influence of landscape features on population genetic structure and gene flow of a semiaquatic species, the muskrat. A total of 97 muskrats were sampled from three watersheds near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. We estimated population genetic structure using 11 microsatellite loci and identified a single genetic cluster and no genetic differences were found among the watersheds as a result of high levels of gene flow. At finer scales, we assessed the correlation between individual pairwise genetic distances and Euclidean distance as well as different models of least cost path (LCP). We used a range of cost values for the landscape types in order to build our LCP models. We found a positive relationship between genetic distance and least cost distance when we considered roads as corridors for movements. Open landscapes and urban areas seemed to restrict but not prevent gene flow within the study area. Our study underlines the high-dispersal ability of generalist species in their use of landscape and highlights how landscape features often considered barriers to animal movements are corridors for other species.