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Genetic pattern of the recent recovery of European otters in southern France

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We investigated how landscape affects the population genetic structure and the dispersal of the elusive European otter Lutra lutra in a contemporary colonization context, over several generations and at the level of hydrographic basins. Our study area included 10 basins located in the Cévennes National Park (CNP), at the southern front of the natural otter recovery in France. Each basin comprised 50 to 300 km of permanent rivers that were surveyed for otter presence from 1991 to 2005. Faecal samples collected in 2004 and 2005 in this area were genotyped at 9 microsatellite loci, resulting in the identification of 70 genetically distinct individuals. Bayesian clustering methods were used to infer genetic structure of the populations and to compare recent gene flow to the observed colonization. At the regional level, we identified 2 distinct genetic clusters (NE and SW; FST=0.102) partially separated by ridges, suggesting that the CNP was recolonized by 2 genetically distinct otter populations. At the basin level, the genetic distance between groups of individuals in different basins was positively correlated to the mean slope separating these basins. The probable origins and directions of individual movements (i.e. migration between clusters and basin colonization inside clusters) were inferred from assignment tests. This approach shows that steep and dry lands can stop, impede or divert the dispersal of a mobile carnivore such as the otter.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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