Preferred habitat and effective population size drive landscape genetic patterns in an endangered species

Byron V. Weckworth, Marco Musiani, Nicholas J. Decesare, Allan D. McDevitt, Mark Hebblewhite, Stefano Mariani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Landscape genetics provides a framework for pinpointing environmental features that determine the important exchange of migrants among populations. These studies usually test the significance of environmental variables on gene flow, yet ignore one fundamental driver of genetic variation in small populations, effectivepopulation size,Ne. We combinedboth approaches in evaluating genetic connectivity of a threatened ungulate, woodland caribou. We used leastcost paths to calculate matrices of resistance distance for landscape variables (preferred habitat, anthropogenic features and predation risk) and populationpairwise harmonic means of Ne, and correlated them with genetic distances, FST and Dc. Results showed that spatial configuration of preferred habitat and Newere the twobest predictors of genetic relationships. Additionally, controlling for the effect of Ne increased the strength of correlations of environmental variables with genetic distance, highlighting the significant underlying effect of Ne in modulating genetic drift and perceived spatial connectivity. We therefore have provided empirical support to emphasize preventing increased habitat loss and promoting population growth to ensure metapopulation viability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20131756
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1769
StatePublished - Sep 4 2013


  • Canadian rockies
  • Genetic drift
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Landscape genetics
  • Least-cost paths
  • Rangifer tarandus caribou


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