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Effects of ecogeographic variables on genetic variation in montane mammals: implications for conservation in a global warming scenario

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Abstract Aim 

Evolutionary theory predicts that levels of genetic variation in island populations will be positively correlated with island area and negatively correlated with island isolation. These patterns have been empirically established for oceanic islands, but little is known about the determinants of variation on habitat islands. The goals of this study were twofold. Our first aim was to test whether published patterns of genetic variation in mammals occurring on montane habitat islands in the American Southwest conformed to expectations based on evolutionary theory. The second aim of this research was to develop simple heuristic models to predict changes in genetic variation that may occur in these populations as a result of reductions in available mountaintop habitat in response to global warming. Location 

Habitat islands of conifer forest on mountaintops in the American Southwest. Methods 

Relationships between island area and isolation with measures of allozyme variation in four species of small mammal, namely the least chipmunk (Tamias minimus), Colorado chipmunk (Tamias quadrivittatus), red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), and Mexican woodrat (Neotoma mexicana), were determined using correlation and regression techniques. Significant relationships between island area and genetic variation were used to develop three distinct statistical models with which to predict changes in genetic variation following reduction in insular habitat area arising from global warming. Results 

Patterns of genetic variation in each species conformed to evolutionary predictions. In general, island area was the most important determinant of heterozygosity, while island isolation was the most important determinant of polymorphism and allelic diversity. The heuristic models predicted widespread reductions in genetic variation, the extent of which depended on the population and model considered. Main conclusions 

The results support a generalized pattern of genetic variation for any species with an insular distribution, with reduced variation in smaller, more isolated populations. We predict widespread reductions in genetic variation in isolated populations of montane small mammals in the American Southwest as a result of global warming. We conclude that climate-induced reductions in the various dimensions of genetic variation may increase the probability of population extinction in both the short and long term.

Keywords: Area; Rocky Mountains; conservation; genetic variation; global warming; island biogeography; isolation; montane mammals; southwestern North America

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2007

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