Environmental conditions affect spatial genetic structures and dispersal patterns in a solitary rodent


Correspondence: Gabrielle Dubuc Messier, Fax: (514) 987 4647; E-mail: dubuc-messier.gabrielle@courrier.uqam.ca


The study of the spatial distribution of relatives in a population under contrasted environmental conditions provides critical insights into the flexibility of dispersal behaviour and the role of environmental conditions in shaping population relatedness and social structure. Yet few studies have evaluated the effects of fluctuating environmental conditions on relatedness structure of solitary species in the wild. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of interannual variations in environmental conditions on the spatial distribution of relatives [spatial genetic structure (SGS)] and dispersal patterns of a wild population of eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus), a solitary rodent of North America. Eastern chipmunks depend on the seed of masting trees for reproduction and survival. Here, we combined the analysis of the SGS of adults with direct estimates of juvenile dispersal distance during six contrasted years with different dispersal seasons, population sizes and seed production. We found that environmental conditions influences the dispersal distances of juveniles and that male juveniles dispersed farther than females. The extent of the SGS of adult females varied between years and matched the variation in environmental conditions. In contrast, the SGS of males did not vary between years. We also found a difference in SGS between males and females that was consistent with male-biased dispersal. This study suggests that both the dispersal behaviour and the relatedness structure in a population of a solitary species can be relatively labile and change according to environmental conditions.