• control region;
  • Corvus;
  • invasive species;
  • microsatellites;
  • Mojave Desert;
  • ravens


Common raven (Corvus corax) populations in Mojave Desert regions of southern California and Nevada have increased dramatically over the past five decades. This growth has been attributed to increased human development in the region, as ravens have a commensal relationship with humans and feed extensively at landfills and on road-killed wildlife. Ravens, as a partially subsidized predator, also represent a problem for native desert wildlife, in particular threatened desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii). However, it is unclear whether the more than 15-fold population increase is due to in situ population growth or to immigration from adjacent regions where ravens have been historically common. Ravens were sampled for genetic analysis at several local sites within five major areas: the West Mojave Desert (California), East Mojave Desert (southern Nevada), southern coastal California, northern coastal California (Bay Area), and northern Nevada (Great Basin). Analyses of mtDNA control region sequences reveal an increased frequency of raven ‘Holarctic clade’ haplotypes from south to north inland, with ‘California clade’ haplotypes nearly fixed in the California populations. There was significant structuring among regions for mtDNA, with high FST values among sampling regions, especially between the Nevada and California samples. Analyses of eight microsatellite loci reveal a mostly similar pattern of regional population structure, with considerably smaller, but mostly significant, values. The greater mtDNA divergences may be due to lower female dispersal relative to males, lower Ne, or effects of high mutation rates on maximal values of FST. Analyses indicate recent population growth in the West Mojave Desert and a bottleneck in the northern California populations. While we cannot rule out in situ population growth as a factor, patterns of movement inferred from our data suggest that the increase in raven populations in the West Mojave Desert resulted from movements from southern California and the Central Valley. Ravens in the East Mojave Desert are more similar to ones from northern Nevada, indicating movement between those regions. If this interpretation of high gene flow into the Mojave Desert is correct, then efforts to manage raven numbers by local control may not be optimally effective.