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Landscape genetic structure of coastal tailed frogs (Ascaphus truei) in protected vs. managed forests

Authors


S. F. Spear, Fax: 509-335-3184; Email: sspear@wsu.edu

Abstract

Habitat loss and fragmentation are the leading causes of species’ declines and extinctions. A key component of studying population response to habitat alteration is to understand how fragmentation affects population connectivity in disturbed landscapes. We used landscape genetic analyses to determine how habitat fragmentation due to timber harvest affects genetic population connectivity of the coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei), a forest-dwelling, stream-breeding amphibian. We compared rates of gene flow across old-growth (Olympic National Park) and logged landscapes (Olympic National Forest) and used spatial autoregression to estimate the effect of landscape variables on genetic structure. We detected higher overall genetic connectivity across the managed forest, although this was likely a historical signature of continuous forest before timber harvest began. Gene flow also occurred terrestrially, as connectivity was high across unconnected river basins. Autoregressive models demonstrated that closed forest and low solar radiation were correlated with increased gene flow. In addition, there was evidence for a temporal lag in the correlation of decreased gene flow with harvest, suggesting that the full genetic impact may not appear for several generations. Furthermore, we detected genetic evidence of population bottlenecks across the Olympic National Forest, including at sites that were within old-growth forest but surrounded by harvested patches. Collectively, this research suggests that absence of forest (whether due to natural or anthropogenic changes) is a key restrictor of genetic connectivity and that intact forested patches in the surrounding environment are necessary for continued gene flow and population connectivity.

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