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Keywords:

  • gene flow;
  • landscape connectivity;
  • microsatellites;
  • population genetics;
  • population structure;
  • Puma concolor

Abstract

We examined the effects of habitat discontinuities on gene flow among puma (Puma concolor) populations across the southwestern USA. Using 16 microsatellite loci, we genotyped 540 pumas sampled throughout the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, where a high degree of habitat heterogeneity provides for a wide range of connective habitat configurations between subpopulations. We investigated genetic structuring using complementary individual- and population-based analyses, the latter employing a novel technique to geographically cluster individuals without introducing investigator bias. The analyses revealed genetic structuring at two distinct scales. First, strikingly strong differentiation between northern and southern regions within the study area suggests little migration between them. Second, within each region, gene flow appears to be strongly limited by distance, particularly in the presence of habitat barriers such as open desert and grasslands. Northern pumas showed both reduced genetic diversity and greater divergence from a hypothetical ancestral population based on Bayesian clustering analyses, possibly reflecting a post-Pleistocene range expansion. Bayesian clustering results were sensitive to sampling density, which may complicate inference of numbers of populations when using this method. The results presented here build on those of previous studies, and begin to complete a picture of how different habitat types facilitate or impede gene flow among puma populations.