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Population structure in a critically endangered arctic fox population: does genetics matter?

Authors


Love Dalén, Fax: +46 8167715; E-mail: love.dalen@zoologi.su.se

Abstract

The arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) in Scandinavia is classified as critically endangered after having gone through a severe decline in population size in the beginning of the 20th century, from which it has failed to recover despite more than 65 years of protection. Arctic foxes have a high dispersal rate and often disperse over long distances, suggesting that there was probably little population differentiation within Scandinavia prior to the bottleneck. It is, however, possible that the recent decline in population size has led to a decrease in dispersal and an increase in population fragmentation. To examine this, we used 10 microsatellite loci to analyse genetic variation in 150 arctic foxes from Scandinavia and Russia. The results showed that the arctic fox in Scandinavia presently is subdivided into four populations, and that the Kola Peninsula and northwest Russia together form a large fifth population. Current dispersal between the populations seemed to be very low, but genetic variation within them was relatively high. This and the relative FST values among the populations are consistent with a model of recent fragmentation within Scandinavia. Since the amount of genetic variation is high within the populations, but the populations are small and isolated, demographic stochasticity seems to pose a higher threat to the populations’ persistence than inbreeding depression and low genetic variation.

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