Exploring dispersal barriers using landscape genetic resistance modelling in scarlet macaws of the Peruvian Amazon



Dispersal is essential for species persistence and landscape genetic studies are valuable tools for identifying potential barriers to dispersal. Macaws have been studied for decades in their natural habitat, but we still have no knowledge of how natural landscape features influence their dispersal.


We tested for correlations between landscape resistance models and the current population genetic structure of macaws in continuous rainforest to explore natural barriers to their dispersal.


We studied scarlet macaws (Ara macao) over a 13,000 km2 area of continuous primary Amazon rainforest in south-eastern Peru. Using remote sensing imagery from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, we constructed landscape resistance surfaces in CIRCUITSCAPE based on elevation, canopy height and above-ground carbon distribution. We then used individual- and population-level genetic analyses to examine which landscape features influenced gene flow (genetic distance between individuals and populations).


Across the lowland rainforest we found limited population genetic differentiation. However, a population from an intermountain valley of the Andes (Candamo) showed detectable genetic differentiation from two other populations (Tambopata) located 20–60 km away (F ST = 0.008, P = 0.001–0.003). Landscape resistance models revealed that genetic distance between individuals was significantly positively related to elevation.


Our landscape resistance analysis suggests that mountain ridges between Candamo and Tambopata may limit gene flow in scarlet macaws. These results serve as baseline data for continued landscape studies of parrots, and will be useful for understanding the impacts of anthropogenic dispersal barriers in the future.

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This research was funded by the Loro Parque Foundation, Rufford Small Grant Foundation, Idea Wild, and The Australian National University. Thanks for technical laboratory support to Christine Hayes and Cintia Garai. We thank for the laboratory space provided by the Unidad de Biotecnología Molecular, Laboratorio de Investigación y Desarrollo, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru. We thank to Janice Boyd, Texas A&M University to provide us preliminary results from the satellite telemetry analysis on scarlet macaws in Tambopata. Samples were collected under research permits from the Servicio Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (SERNANP) in Peru. CITES permits were provided by the Peruvian and Australian authorities. Genetic access to the samples was granted by the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR) in Peru. The Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee of the Texas A&M University approved all methods. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory portion of this study was supported by a grant to G.P.A. from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Two anonymous referees provided helpful comments that improved the manuscript.

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Olah, G., Smith, A.L., Asner, G.P. et al. Exploring dispersal barriers using landscape genetic resistance modelling in scarlet macaws of the Peruvian Amazon. Landscape Ecol 32, 445–456 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10980-016-0457-8

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  • Population genetics
  • Dispersal
  • Movement ecology
  • Feathers
  • Microsatellites
  • Neotropics
  • Andes
  • Barriers
  • LiDAR