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Elevational isolation of red fox populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

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Abstract

Foxes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are reported to show high frequencies of blonde and gray coat colors. A survey of park sighting records showed that the frequency of the novel coat colors significantly increases at elevations greater than 2300 m, suggesting some form of elevational isolation. We evaluated the degree of genetic separation between the high-elevation foxes (>2300 m) and contiguous populations of foxes at mid-elevations (1600–2300m). Low-elevation (>1600 m) foxes from North Dakota, >1000 km straight line distance from our populations, were used as a control group. We genotyped 15 high-elevation, 15 mid-elevation, and 10 low-elevation foxes at 10 microsatellite loci each. Heterozygosity was significantly lower in both the high-elevation and mid-elevation populations compared to the low-elevation foxes. The genetic differentiation was significantly greater between the high-elevation and mid-elevation foxes than between the mid-elevation and low-elevation foxes. Similarly, estimates of R ST and F ST suggest less gene flow occurs between the contiguous high- and mid-elevation fox populations than between the mid- and low-elevation fox populations separated by > 1000 km. The assignment test further supports this hypothesis. Although further work is needed, we suggest that the high-elevation foxes are remnant populations from the Wisconsin glaciation and should be managed as a unique population.

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Correspondence to Bradley J. Swanson.

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Swanson, B.J., Fuhrmann, R.T. & Crabtree, R.L. Elevational isolation of red fox populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Conserv Genet 6, 123–131 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-004-7730-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-004-7730-0

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