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Congruent population structure inferred from dispersal behaviour and intensive genetic surveys of the threatened Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma cœrulescens)


Aurélie Coulon, Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program, Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA. Fax: +1 607 254 2486; E-mail:


The delimitation of populations, defined as groups of individuals linked by gene flow, is possible by the analysis of genetic markers and also by spatial models based on dispersal probabilities across a landscape. We combined these two complimentary methods to define the spatial pattern of genetic structure among remaining populations of the threatened Florida scrub-jay, a species for which dispersal ability is unusually well-characterized. The range-wide population was intensively censused in the 1990s, and a metapopulation model defined population boundaries based on predicted dispersal-mediated demographic connectivity. We subjected genotypes from more than 1000 individual jays screened at 20 microsatellite loci to two Bayesian clustering methods. We describe a consensus method for identifying common features across many replicated clustering runs. Ten genetically differentiated groups exist across the present-day range of the Florida scrub-jay. These groups are largely consistent with the dispersal-defined metapopulations, which assume very limited dispersal ability. Some genetic groups comprise more than one metapopulation, likely because these genetically similar metapopulations were sundered only recently by habitat alteration. The combined reconstructions of population structure based on genetics and dispersal-mediated demographic connectivity provide a robust depiction of the current genetic and demographic organization of this species, reflecting past and present levels of dispersal among occupied habitat patches. The differentiation of populations into 10 genetic groups adds urgency to management efforts aimed at preserving what remains of genetic variation in this dwindling species, by maintaining viable populations of all genetically differentiated and geographically isolated populations.

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