, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 281-294
Date: 13 Nov 2010

Population genetic structure and landscape connectivity of the Eastern Yellowbelly Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) in the contiguous tallgrass prairie of northeastern Kansas, USA

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Abstract

The tallgrass prairie of North America has undergone widespread habitat loss and fragmentation (<4% remains). The Flint Hills region of Kansas and Oklahoma is the largest tallgrass prairie remaining and therefore provides an opportunity to study the population genetic structure of grassland species in a relatively contiguous landscape and set a baseline for evaluating changes when the habitat is fragmented. We adopted a landscape genetics approach to identify how landscape structure affected dispersal, population genetic structure, and landscape connectivity of the Eastern Yellowbelly Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) across a 13,500-km2 landscape in northeastern Kansas, USA. The racer population had high allelic diversity, high heterozygosity, and was maintaining migration-drift equilibrium. Autocorrelation between genetic and geographic distance revealed that racers exhibited restricted dispersal within 3 km, and isolation-by-distance. Significant isolation-by-distance occurred at broad regional scales (>100 km), but because of sufficient gene flow between locations, we were unable to define discrete subpopulations using Bayesian clustering analyses. Resistance distance, which considers the permeability of habitats, did not explain significant variation in genetic distance beyond Euclidean distance alone, suggesting that racers are not currently influenced by landscape composition. In northeastern Kansas, racers appear to be an abundant and continuously distributed snake that perceives the landscape as well connected with no cover type currently impeding snake dispersal or gene flow.