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Climate change reduces genetic diversity of Canada lynx at the trailing range edge



Shifts in species distributions due to environmental change may affect the spatial pattern of genetic structure within a species' range, including possible changes to the adaptive potential of populations. We investigated spatial patterns of neutral genetic diversity and differentiation at the southern edge of the Canada lynx Lynx canadensis distribution in Ontario, Canada. We analyzed provincial fur harvest records (1972–2010) and collected and genotyped lynx pelt samples (2007–2009) from 702 lynx at 14 microsatellite loci. We show that the southern range boundary of lynx in central Canada has contracted northward by > 175 km since the 1970s, and that high winter temperature, low snow depth, and low proportion of suitable habitat are strongly correlated with low neutral genetic diversity and high genetic differentiation at the trailing range edge. Our work tests fundamental ideas about species range limits and demonstrates that environmental conditions can have a marked influence on neutral genetic structure. Our results suggest that changes in environmental conditions will result in further loss of genetic diversity and possibly reduce adaptive potential in southern peripheral lynx populations.