Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Assessment of spatial genetic structure to identify populations at risk for infection of an emerging epizootic disease

April 22, 2020
  1. Understanding the geographic extent and connectivity of wildlife populations can provide important insights into the management of disease outbreaks but defining patterns of population structure is difficult for widely distributed species. Landscape genetic analyses are powerful methods for identifying cryptic structure and movement patterns that may be associated with spatial epizootic patterns in such cases.
  2. We characterized patterns of population substructure and connectivity using microsatellite genotypes from 2,222 white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, a region where chronic wasting disease was first detected in 2009. The goal of this study was to evaluate the juxtaposition between population structure, landscape features that influence gene flow, and current disease management units.
  3. Clustering analyses identified four to five subpopulations in this region, the edges of which corresponded to ecophysiographic provinces. Subpopulations were further partitioned into 11 clusters with subtle (FST ≤ 0.041), but significant genetic differentiation. Genetic differentiation was lower and migration rates were higher among neighboring genetic clusters, indicating an underlying genetic cline. Genetic discontinuities were associated with topographic barriers, however.
  4. Resistance surface modeling indicated that gene flow was diffuse in homogenous landscapes, but the direction and extent of gene flow were influenced by forest cover, traffic volume, and elevational relief in subregions heterogeneous for these landscape features. Chronic wasting disease primarily occurred among genetic clusters within a single subpopulation and along corridors of high landscape connectivity.
  5. These results may suggest a possible correlation between population substructure, landscape connectivity, and the occurrence of diseases for widespread species. Considering these factors may be useful in delineating effective management units, although only the largest features produced appreciable differences in subpopulation structure. Disease mitigation strategies implemented at the scale of ecophysiographic provinces are likely to be more effective than those implemented at finer scales.
Publication Year 2020
Title Assessment of spatial genetic structure to identify populations at risk for infection of an emerging epizootic disease
DOI 10.1002/ece3.6161
Authors William L. Miller, Cassandra M. Miller-Butterworth, Duane R. Diefenbach, W. David Walter
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70228656
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Leetown