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Reduced genetic diversity and isolation of remnant ocelot populations occupying a severely fragmented landscape in southern Texas

Authors

  • J. E. Janečka,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, USA
    2. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
    3. Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
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    • *Current address: Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA.

  • M. E. Tewes,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, USA
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  • L. L. Laack,

    1. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Hondo, TX, USA
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  • A. Caso,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, USA
    2. Proyecto Sobre los Felinos Silvestres de Mexico, Tampico, Tamaulipas, México, D. F.
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  • L. I. Grassman, Jr,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, USA
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  • A. M. Haines,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, USA
    2. Department of Biological Sciences, Upper Iowa University, IA, USA
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  • D. B. Shindle,

    1. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, USA
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  • B. W. Davis,

    1. Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
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  • W. J. Murphy,

    1. Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
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  • R. L. Honeycutt

    1. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
    2. Natural Science Division, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA, USA
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  • Editor: David Reed

Jan E. Janečka, Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, VMA Building, Room 107, 4458 TAMU, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA. Tel: +1 979 458 0206; Fax: +1 979 845 9972 Email: jjanecka@cvm.tamu.edu

Abstract

The ocelot Leopardus pardalis has become a conservation priority in the US as a result of severe population decline and loss of habitat during the 20th century. Only two small populations remain in this country. Their short-term viability is threatened by the disappearance of dense thornshrub communities, human-caused mortality and demographic stochasticity. The influence these factors have on ocelot persistence must be considered to develop effective conservation initiatives. We therefore examined neutral genetic diversity and connectivity among ocelots in the US and northeastern Mexico using 25 autosomal microsatellites and a 395-bp segment of the mitochondrial control region. Genetic variation was lowest in the population occurring on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas (autosomal microsatellite HE=0.399 and mtDNA-haplotype diversity=0) and highest in northeastern Mexico (0.637 and 0.73, respectively), while intermediate on private lands in Willacy County, Texas (0.553 and 0.252, respectively). Significant genetic differentiation between the two Texas populations was observed, despite their close proximity (∼30 km). Both populations were also significantly divergent from northeastern Mexico. The absence of any detectable gene flow implies that the human modified landscape of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas acts as a strong barrier to ocelot movement, disrupting metapopulation dynamics and contributing to loss of diversity. As a consequence, continued genetic erosion among the Texas populations is expected. The lack of movement through the fragmented landscape also suggests it is unlikely ocelots will recolonize unoccupied habitat patches along the Lower Rio Grande and the delta interior where agriculture and urban land uses predominate. The continued rapid development will exacerbate this problem. These factors threaten the persistence of the Texas populations and limit their recovery. Translocations are necessary to link ocelot populations in the US.

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