Inferring Geographic Isolation of Wolverines in California Using Historical DNA

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Abstract

ABSTRACT  Delineating a species' geographic range using the spatial distribution of museum specimens or even contemporary detection-non-detection data can be difficult. This is particularly true at the periphery of a species range where species' distributions are often disjunct. Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are wide-ranging mammals with discontinuous and potentially isolated populations at the periphery of their range. One potentially disjunct population occurred in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA, and appears to have been extirpated by the 1930s. Many early 20th century naturalists believed that this population was connected to other populations occurring in the Cascade Range of northern California, Oregon, and Washington, USA, but a recent analysis of historical records suggests that California wolverines were isolated from other populations in North America. We used DNA extracted from museum specimens to examine whether California wolverines were isolated. Both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA data indicate that California wolverines were genetically distinct from extant populations, suggesting long-term isolation. We identified 2 new control region (mitochondrial DNA) haplotypes located only within California. We used these data and referenced sequences from the Rocky Mountains, USA, to make inferences regarding potential wolverine translocations into California. In addition, we used these genetic data to make inferences about wolverine conservation throughout western North America.

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