Landscape resistance affects individual habitat selection but not genetic relatedness in a reintroduced desert ungulate

L. J. Zecherle, S. Bar-David, H. J. Nichols, A. R. Templeton, H. Hipperson, G. J. Horsburgh, R. P. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The long-term success of species reintroductions is strongly dependent on the availability of large areas of suitable habitat and the genetic make-up of the population. If available habitat is poorly connected this can hinder gene flow and lead to genetic fragmentation of the population, potentially increasing its extinction risk. We employed a conservation genomics approach in which we combined analyses of genetic structure with testing for potential landscape effects on habitat selection and gene flow in reintroduced Asiatic wild ass Equus hemionus ssp. in the Israeli Negev desert. Genetic structure and pairwise relatedness were first investigated followed by examination of landscape effects on individual habitat selection using records of GPS collared individuals. We then built habitat resistance surfaces and used electrical circuit theory to test for landscape effects on genetic relatedness. We detected weak genetic structuring, yet low spatial coherence among individuals from the same genetic cluster. Landscape variables had a significant impact on individual habitat selection, with wild ass avoiding steep slopes and habitats of low suitability as predicted by a species distribution model. However, the landscape genetic analysis revealed no effect of habitat resistance on genetic relatedness. These results suggest that gene flow in the reintroduced population is not impacted by landscape resistance. Indeed, the high mobility of the species may increase its resistance to the genetic effects of habitat fragmentation, at least over a small number of generations. We discuss other potential causes for the observed genetic structure including a behavioural effect. Our study highlights the importance of understanding species-habitat interactions for the long-term success of reintroductions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108845
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume252
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Circuit theory
  • Equus hemionus
  • Genetic structure
  • Habitat selection
  • Landscape resistance
  • Reintroduction

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