The effect of habitat fragmentation on dispersal patterns, mating behavior, and genetic variation in a pika (Ochotona princeps) metapopulation
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Habitat fragmentation is becoming increasingly common, yet, the effect of habitat spatial structure on population dynamics remains undetermined for most species. Populations of a single species found in fragmented and nonfragmented habitat present a rare opportunity to examine the effect of habitat spatial structure on population dynamics. This study investigates the impact of highly fragmented habitat on dispersal patterns, mating behavior, and genetic variation in a pika (Ochotona princeps) population with a mainland-island spatial structure. Juvenile dispersal patterns in fragmented habitat revealed that individuals tended to disperse to neighboring habitat patches. However, within-patch band-sharing scores from multilocus DNA fingerprints did not differ from what would be expected if individuals were assorting randomly among habitat patches each year. Multiple, short-distance dispersal targets for juveniles and occasional long-distance dispersal events suggest that habitat fragmentation on this scale has not resulted in restricted dispersal and a genetically subdivided population. Although pikas tended to mate with the closest available partner, DNA fingerprinting band-sharing scores between mated pairs were consistent with a random mating hypothesis. Random mating in this population appears to be an incidental effect of dispersal in a fragmented habitat. This pattern is distinct from that found in nonfragmented habitat (large talus patches) where mating was non-random and consistent with mating between individuals of intermediate relatedness. DNA fingerprinting data revealed within-species variation in the mating habits of the pika directly attributable to habitat spatial structure.
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