The Tibetan Plateau is one of the top 10 biodiversity hotspots in the world and acts as a modern harbour for many rare species because of its relatively pristine state. In this article, we report a landscape genetic study on the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti), a primate endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. DNA was extracted from blood, tissue and fecal samples of 135 wild individuals representing 11 out of 15 extant monkey groups. Ten microsatellite loci were used to characterize patterns of genetic diversity. The most striking feature of the population structure is the presence of five subpopulations with distinct genetic backgrounds and unique spatial regions. The population structure of R. bieti appears to be shaped by anthropogenic landscape features as gene flow between subpopulations is strongly impeded by arable land, highways and human habitation. A partial Mantel test showed that 36.23% (r = 0.51, P = 0.01) of the genetic distance was explained by habitat gaps after controlling for the effect of geographical distance. Only 4.92% of the genetic distance was explained by geographical distance in the partial Mantel test, and no significant correlation was found. Estimation of population structure history indicates that environmental change during the last glacial maximum and human impacts since the Holocene, or a combination of both, have shaped the observed population structure of R. bieti. Increasing human activity on the Plateau, especially that resulting in habitat fragmentation, is becoming an important factor in shaping the genetic structure and evolutionary potential of species inhabiting this key ecosystem.
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