Pulses of movement across the sea ice: population connectivity and temporal genetic structure in the arctic fox
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- Norén, K., Carmichael, L., Fuglei, E. et al. Oecologia (2011) 166: 973. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-1939-7
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Lemmings are involved in several important functions in the Arctic ecosystem. The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) can be divided into two discrete ecotypes: “lemming foxes” and “coastal foxes”. Crashes in lemming abundance can result in pulses of “lemming fox” movement across the Arctic sea ice and immigration into coastal habitats in search for food. These pulses can influence the genetic structure of the receiving population. We have tested the impact of immigration on the genetic structure of the “coastal fox” population in Svalbard by recording microsatellite variation in seven loci for 162 Arctic foxes sampled during the summer and winter over a 5-year period. Genetic heterogeneity and temporal genetic shifts, as inferred by STRUCTURE simulations and deviations from Hardy–Weinberg proportions, respectively, were recorded. Maximum likelihood estimates of movement as well as STRUCTURE simulations suggested that both immigration and genetic mixture are higher in Svalbard than in the neighbouring “lemming fox” populations. The STRUCTURE simulations and AMOVA revealed there are differences in genetic composition of the population between summer and winter seasons, indicating that immigrants are not present in the reproductive portion of the Svalbard population. Based on these results, we conclude that Arctic fox population structure varies with time and is influenced by immigration from neighbouring populations. The lemming cycle is likely an important factor shaping Arctic fox movement across sea ice and the subsequent population genetic structure, but is also likely to influence local adaptation to the coastal habitat and the prevalence of diseases.