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Social organization and genetic structure: insights from codistributed bat populations

Authors


Stephen Rossiter, Fax: +44 (0) 207 882 7732; E-mail: s.j.rossiter@qmul.ac.uk

Abstract

The impact of ecology and social organization on genetic structure at landscape spatial scales, where gene dynamics shape evolution as well as determine susceptibility to habitat fragmentation, is poorly understood. Attempts to assess these effects must take into account the potentially confounding effects of history. We used microsatellites to compare genetic structure in seven bat species with contrasting patterns of roosting ecology and social organization, all of which are codistributed in an ancient forest habitat that has been exceptionally buffered from radical habitat shifts. Over one thousand individuals were captured at foraging sites and genotyped at polymorphic microsatellite loci. Analyses of spatially explicit genotype data revealed interspecies differences in the extent of movement and gene flow and genetic structure across continuous intact forest. Highest positive genetic structure was observed in tree-roosting taxa that roost either alone or in small groups. By comparison, a complete absence of genetic autocorrelation was noted in the cave-roosting colonial species across the study area. Our results thus reveal measurable interspecies differences in the natural limits of gene flow in an unmodified habitat, which we attribute to contrasting roosting ecology and social organization. The consequences of ecology and behaviour for gene flow have important implications for conservation. In particular, tree-roosting species characterized by lower vagility and thus gene flow will be disproportionally impacted by landscape-scale forest clearance and habitat fragmentation, which are prevalent in the study region. Our method also highlights the usefulness of rapid sampling of foraging bats for assaying genetic structure, particularly where roosting sites are not always known.

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