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Genetic structure of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) population inhabiting a fragmented agricultural ecosystem

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Fragmentation has drastically altered the quality of habitats throughout numerous ecosystems, often leading to dramatic changes in the composition of wildlife communities. The ecology and associated movement behavior of a species may also be modified as a result of forest fragmentation, resulting in changes in genetic composition of the affected species. In this research, we evaluated the genetic structure of the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana Kerr, 1792) at the landscape and local scales in a fragmented, agricultural ecosystem in northern Indiana using 13 microsatellite loci. We examined 290 samples from opossums inhabiting 28 discrete habitat patches, and evaluated partitioning of genetic variation of opossums among and within habitat patches. We observed low but significant levels of genetic structure (F ST = 0.005) overall, and pairwise comparisons of F ST values among habitat patches also were relatively low. Relatedness within patches was highly variable (–0.077 ≤ r xy  ≤ 0.060), with a few patches exhibiting significantly higher levels of relatedness than random expectations, and we detected no evidence of sex-biased natal dispersal. These results contrast with previous field studies that documented male-biased dispersal in the Virginia opossum, indicating dispersal in this species is plastic and dependent upon local environmental conditions.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2011


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