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Keywords:

  • conservation genetics;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • lesser prairie-chickens;
  • microsatellites;
  • mtDNA;
  • Tympanuchus pallidicinctus

Abstract

As a result of recurrent droughts and anthropogenic factors, the range of the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) has contracted by 92% and the population has been reduced by approximately 97% in the past century, resulting in the smallest population size and most restricted geographical distribution of any North American grouse. We examined genetic variation through DNA sequence analysis of 478 base pairs of the mitochondrial genome and by assaying allelic variation at five microsatellite loci from lesser prairie-chickens collected on 20 leks in western Oklahoma and east-central New Mexico. Traditional population genetic analyses indicate that lesser prairie-chickens maintain high levels of genetic variation at both nuclear and mitochondrial loci. Although some genetic structuring among lesser prairie-chicken leks was detected within Oklahoma and New Mexico for both nuclear and mitochondrial loci, high levels of differentiation were detected between Oklahoma and New Mexico populations. Nested-clade analysis of mitochondrial haplotypes revealed that both historic and contemporary processes have influenced patterns of haplotype distributions and that historic processes have most likely led to the level of differentiation found between the Oklahoma and New Mexico populations.