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Delineating genetic groupings in continuously distributed species across largely homogeneous landscapes: a study of American black bears (Ursus americanus) in Ontario, Canada

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There is a crucial need to understand the genetic consequences of landscape modifications on continuous populations that could become fragmented, and to evaluate the degree of differentiation of isolated populations that were historically part of the core. Using 15 microsatellite loci, we evaluated the genetic structure of American black bears (Ursus americanus Pallas, 1780) across a vast, contiguous Ontario landscape (>1 × 106 km2) that largely represents their pre-European settlement distribution. Because geographic barriers are absent, we predicted that isolation by distance would drive genetic structure. We identified three genetic clusters (Northwest, Southeast, and Bruce Peninsula) that were less differentiated than when assessed with mtDNA, suggesting the influence of male-biased dispersal on large-scale genetic differentiation. Isolation by distance (r = 0.552, P = 0.001) was supported by a weak, clinal variation between Northwest and Southeast, illustrating the challenges to delineate populations in wide-ranging taxa. The Bruce Peninsula cluster, confined to a small area under strong anthropogenic pressures, was more differentiated from neighbouring clusters (f ST > 0.13, P < 0.0001), with a genetic diversity corresponding to disjunct populations of black bears. Our results could be used in landscape genetics models to project the evolution of population differentiation based on upcoming landscape modifications in northern regions of North America.
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Keywords: American black bear (Ursus americanus); Amérique du Nord; North America; autocorrélation spatiale; cluster; dispersion des mâles; flux génétique; gene flow; genetic structure; isolation by distance; isolement par la distance; male-biased dispersal; microsatellite; ours noir (Ursus americanus); spatial autocorrelation; structure génétique

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Environmental and Life Sciences Program, Environmental Science Building, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 2: Wildlife Research and Development Section, ON Ministry of Natural Resources, DNA Building, Trent University, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 3: Biology Section, Centre of Forensic Sciences, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, 25 Grosvenor Street, Toronto, ON M7A 2G8, Canada. 4: Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park, Parks Canada, P.O. Box 189, 248 Big Tub Road, Tobermory, ON N0H 2R0, Canada. 5: Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre, DNA Building, Trent University, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 6: Forensic Science Department, DNA Building, Trent University, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada.

Publication date: 2012-08-11

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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