, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 197-211
Date: 21 Mar 2006

Genetic diversity and population structure of wolverine (Gulo gulo) populations at the southern edge of their current distribution in North America with implications for genetic viability

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Abstract

The current range of wolverines (Gulo gulo) within the lower 48 states includes small, remnant populations in Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Montana. The size and trend of each of these populations and connectivity to adjacent populations in the contiguous United States and Canada are poorly understood. In this study, levels of genetic diversity and population genetic structure were examined in three states (Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana) and two Canadian provinces (Alberta and British Columbia) using both mitochondrial (mtDNA) and nuclear microsatellite DNA. Restricted levels of gene flow were detected among these populations with mitochondrial and nuclear DNA and our observations suggest a pattern of male-mediated gene flow. Populations in the United States appear to be receiving migrants from Canada, however, substantial genetic differentiation suggests that gene flow may not be high enough to prevent genetic drift. Our analyses suggest that at least 400 breeding pairs or 1–2 effective migrants per generation would be needed to ensure genetic viability in the long-term for each of the populations in the United States. Significant matrilineal structuring and restricted female gene flow indicates that demographic viability will depend upon the movement of female wolverines into new territories. Results from this study provide guidelines for conservation and management and indicate the need for more ecological data.