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Keywords:

  • bottleneck;
  • carnivore;
  • dispersal;
  • genetic diversity;
  • marsupial;
  • population structure

Abstract

Genetic diversity and population structure were investigated across the core range of Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus laniarius; Dasyuridae), a wide-ranging marsupial carnivore restricted to the island of Tasmania. Heterozygosity (0.386–0.467) and allelic diversity (2.7–3.3) were low in all subpopulations and allelic size ranges were small and almost continuous, consistent with a founder effect. Island effects and repeated periods of low population density may also have contributed to the low variation. Within continuous habitat, gene flow appears extensive up to 50 km (high assignment rates to source or close neighbour populations; nonsignificant values of pairwise FST), in agreement with movement data. At larger scales (150–250 km), gene flow is reduced (significant pairwise FST) but there is no evidence for isolation by distance. The most substantial genetic structuring was observed for comparisons spanning unsuitable habitat, implying limited dispersal of devils between the well-connected, eastern populations and a smaller northwestern population. The genetic distinctiveness of the northwestern population was reflected in all analyses: unique alleles; multivariate analyses of gene frequency (multidimensional scaling, minimum spanning tree, nearest neighbour); high self-assignment (95%); two distinct populations for Tasmania were detected in isolation by distance and in Bayesian model-based clustering analyses. Marsupial carnivores appear to have stronger population subdivisions than their placental counterparts.