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Ecological factors influence population genetic structure of European grey wolves

Authors


MaLgorzata Pilot, Fax: +48-22-6296302; E-mail: mpilot@miiz.waw.pl.

Abstract

Although the mechanisms controlling gene flow among populations are particularly important for evolutionary processes, they are still poorly understood, especially in the case of large carnivoran mammals with extensive continuous distributions. We studied the question of factors affecting population genetic structure in the grey wolf, Canis lupus, one of the most mobile terrestrial carnivores. We analysed variability in mitochondrial DNA and 14 microsatellite loci for a sample of 643 individuals from 59 localities representing most of the continuous wolf range in Eastern Europe. We tested an array of geographical, historical and ecological factors to check whether they may explain genetic differentiation among local wolf populations. We showed that wolf populations in Eastern Europe displayed nonrandom spatial genetic structure in the absence of obvious physical barriers to movement. Neither topographic barriers nor past fragmentation could explain spatial genetic structure. However, we found that the genetic differentiation among local populations was correlated with climate, habitat types, and wolf diet composition. This result shows that ecological processes may strongly influence the amount of gene flow among populations. We suggest natal-habitat-biased dispersal as an underlying mechanism linking population ecology with population genetic structure.

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