Conservation in the southern edge of Tetrao urogallus distribution: Gene flow despite fragmentation in the stronghold of the Cantabrian capercaillie

  • Alberto Fameli
  • María Morán-Luis
  • Rolando Rodríguez-Muñoz
  • María José Bañuelos
  • Mario Quevedo
  • Patricia Mirol
Original Article


The Cantabrian capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus cantabricus) is an endangered subspecies of the Western capercaillie, endemic of northern Spain, inhabiting the south-western limit of the species range. Assessing genetic variability and the factors that determine it is crucial in order to develop an effective conservation strategy. In this work, non-invasive samples were collected in some of the best preserved areas inhabited by Cantabrian capercaillie. Nine microsatellite loci and a sex-specific marker were analysed. We included five zones, separated by valleys with different levels of habitat modifications. No evidence of genetic clustering was found which suggests that fragmentation and development in the area do not act as barriers to gene flow. Nonetheless, significant differences among sampling zones were encountered in terms of their allelic frequencies (global F ST = 0.035, p = 0.001). Pairwise F ST comparisons showed differences between all sampling zones included, except between the two ones located in the South (Degaña and Alto Sil). These findings, along with the results of individual based genetic differences, indicate that gene flow among sampling zones might be at least slightly compromised, except between the two zones located in the South. Despite this, the sampling zones seem to exchange migrants at a rate that prevents genetic differentiation to the point of creating clusters. Our results show that the capercaillies in the study area constitute a single interbreeding group, which is an important piece of information that provides support to better understand the dynamics of this endangered subspecies.


Microsatellites Habitat fragmentation Gene flow Genetic structure 



Many collaborators helped both in the field and with the logistics of the survey. We want to explicitly acknowledge the help of Alberto Fernández-Gil, Beatriz Blanco-Fontao, Elia Palop, Eduardo González, Joaquín Calvo, Carlos Rodríguez del Valle, Damián Ramos, Efrén García and José Carral. Surveying capercaillies in the Cantabrian Mountains required also the sustained cooperation of several rangers of the Asturian Environmental Administration: Fernando Rodríguez Pérez, Antonio Ramos and Antonio González. The environmental authorities of Asturias and Castilla y León granted the permits required to access the display areas in Spring. This study is a contribution to grants IB08-158 (FICYT, Principado de Asturias) to MJ Bañuelos and CGL2010-15990 (MICINN, Spanish Government) to MJ Bañuelos and M Quevedo. We also want to thank María Jimena Gómez Fernández and Fernando Mapelli for their valuable contributions in the interpretation of the results and Duane Thomas Blacklock for his valuable support and assistance.

Supplementary material

10344_2017_1110_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 14 kb)
10344_2017_1110_MOESM2_ESM.docx (398 kb)
Fig. S1 Study area showing forest areas (green), mineral extraction sites (red). The symbols represent only those leks where at least one individual was detected. The five different sampling zones are: Muniellos (○), Hermo (★), Leitariegos (△), Degaña (▲) and Alto Sil (●). Lighter grey represents higher altitude. Highly fragmented forest areas can be seen between Hermo and Degaña, while there is a continuum of forest cover between Degaña and Alto Sil (the only two sampling zones that did not show differences on their allelic frequencies). (DOCX 398 kb)
10344_2017_1110_MOESM3_ESM.docx (53 kb)
Fig. S2 Detectability based on the number of times each individual’s presence was recorded. (DOCX 53 kb)
10344_2017_1110_MOESM4_ESM.docx (531 kb)
Fig. S3 Barplots obtained with STRUCTURE for K = 1–15, averaging the results from ten different runs for each K value with the program CLUMPAK. Settings are a) inferring alpha and using a lambda value of 1 (default setting); and b) inferring both alpha and lambda. In both cases, all runs for the same K converged to the barplots shown. Each barplot is divided into six portions based on the individuals’ geographic membership, corresponding to (from left to right): 1) Muniellos; 2) Hermo; 3) bird that was detected in Hermo during 2009 and in Degaña during 2010; 4) Degaña; 5) Leitariegos; 6) Alto Sil. (DOCX 530 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group of Biodiversity and Conservation GeneticsArgentinian Museum of Natural Sciences ‘Bernardino Rivadavia’Buenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Research Unit of Biodiversity (UO-PA-CSIC)University of OviedoMieresSpain
  3. 3.Ecology Unit, Department of Biology of Organisms and SystemsUniversity of OviedoOviedoSpain
  4. 4.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterPenrynUK

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