We investigated how landscape features influence gene flow of black bears by testing the relative support for 36 alternative landscape resistance hypotheses, including isolation by distance (IBD) in each of 12 study areas in the north central U.S. Rocky Mountains. The study areas all contained the same basic elements, but differed in extent of forest fragmentation, altitude, variation in elevation and road coverage. In all but one of the study areas, isolation by landscape resistance was more supported than IBD suggesting gene flow is likely influenced by elevation, forest cover, and roads. However, the landscape features influencing gene flow varied among study areas. Using subsets of loci usually gave models with the very similar landscape features influencing gene flow as with all loci, suggesting the landscape features influencing gene flow were correctly identified. To test if the cause of the variability of supported landscape features in study areas resulted from landscape differences among study areas, we conducted a limiting factor analysis. We found that features were supported in landscape models only when the features were highly variable. This is perhaps not surprising but suggests an important cautionary note – that if landscape features are not found to influence gene flow, researchers should not automatically conclude that the features are unimportant to the species’ movement and gene flow. Failure to investigate multiple study areas that have a range of variability in landscape features could cause misleading inferences about which landscape features generally limit gene flow. This could lead to potentially erroneous identification of corridors and barriers if models are transferred between areas with different landscape characteristics.
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