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Isolation by distance versus landscape resistance: Understanding dominant patterns of genetic structure in Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina)

August 2, 2018

Landscape genetics investigations examine how the availability and configuration of habitat influence genetic structure of plants and animals. We used landscape genetics to evaluate the role that forest connectivity plays in determining genetic structure of the federally-threatened Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) using genotypes of 339 Northern Spotted Owls obtained for 10 microsatellite loci. Spatial clustering analyses identified a distinct genetic cluster at the southern extent of the region examined. This cluster could not be linked to landscape connectivity patterns and suggested that post-Pleistocene processes were involved with its development rather than contemporary landscape configuration. We also compared matrices of pairwise inter-individual genetic distances with resistance distances derived from a circuit-theory based framework. Resistance distances were obtained for an idealized raster map that reflected continuous unimpeded dispersal habitat across the landscape along with five empirically-derived raster maps reflecting the 1870’s, 1940’s, 1986, 1994, and 2012. Resistance distances from the idealized map served as surrogates for linear geographic distances. Relative to idealized conditions, resistance distances were ~250% higher in the 1940’s and ~200% higher from 1986 onward. Resistance distances from the 1870’s were ~40% higher than idealized conditions. Inter-individual genetic distances were most highly correlated with resistance distances from the idealized map rather than any of the empirical maps. Two hypotheses explain our results. First, our results may reflect temporal lags between the onset of large-scale habitat alterations and their novel effects on genetic structure in long-lived species such as Northern Spotted Owls. Second, because Northern Spotted Owls disperse over long distances, our results may indicate that forest habitat has never been sufficiently fragmented to the point where connectivity was disrupted. The second hypothesis could indicate that forest management practices mandated by the Northwest Forest Plan succeeded with one of its primary goals. However, our results do not represent a complete portrayal of the status of Northern Spotted Owls given detection of significant population declines and bottlenecks in other studies. Future investigations based on computer simulations may help distinguish between hypotheses.

Publication Year 2018
Title Isolation by distance versus landscape resistance: Understanding dominant patterns of genetic structure in Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina)
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0201720
Authors Mark P. Miller, Raymond J. Davis, Eric D. Forsman, Thomas D. Mullins, Susan M. Haig
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70198483
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center