Accounting for sex-specific differences in gene flow and functional connectivity for cougars and implications for management

Katherine A. Zeller, Claudia Wultsch, Lindsay S. Welfelt, Richard A. Beausoleil, Erin L. Landguth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Context: Maintenance of connectivity is a commonly recommended strategy for species management and conservation as habitat loss and fragmentation continues. Therefore, functional connectivity modeling is needed for species over large geographic areas. However, sex-specific functional connectivity is rarely considered, even though the results of such an analysis have the potential to influence applied management practices. Objectives: We use a large (n = 1902) genetic dataset to identify population level and sex-specific functional connectivity for cougars in Washington, USA. Methods: We conducted a landscape genetics analysis that pseudo-optimized resistance surfaces for the full sample of cougars as well as for male and female groups. We then modeled connectivity across the top performing resistance surfaces with resistant kernels. Results: The top resistance surface for females had higher resistance and lower connectivity than the males and had more spatial variability. However, we also observed greater resistance to movement and a lack of connectivity for males in and around the Olympic Peninsula. The resistance surface and connectivity models for all cougars contained both the broad features of the male models and the more heterogeneous features of the female models, indicating the importance of both local and regional dispersal and breeding. Conclusions: In species with sex-specific differences in movement and dispersal, accounting for these differences can be important for understanding functional connectivity. For cougars in Washington, this revealed depressed connectivity for males on the Olympic Peninsula which may indicate a more immediate management concern for the future of this population than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-237
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Ecology
Volume38
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • Connectivity
  • Dispersal
  • Landscape genetics
  • Puma concolor
  • Resistance
  • Resistant kernels

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