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A genetic discontinuity in moose (Alces alces) in Alaska corresponds with fenced transportation infrastructure

Abstract

The strength and arrangement of movement barriers can impact the connectivity among habitat patches. Anthropogenic barriers (e.g. roads) are a source of habitat fragmentation that can disrupt these resource networks and can have an influence on the spatial genetic structure of populations. Using microsatellite data, we evaluated whether observed genetic structure of moose (Alces alces) populations were associated with human activities (e.g. roads) in the urban habitat of Anchorage and rural habitat on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. We found evidence of a recent genetic subdivision among moose in Anchorage that corresponds to a major highway and associated infrastructure. This subdivision is most likely due to restrictions in gene flow due to alterations to the highway (e.g. moose-resistant fencing with one-way gates) and a significant increase in traffic volume over the past 30 years; genetic subdivision was not detected on the Kenai Peninsula in an area not bisected by a major highway. This study illustrates that anthropogenic barriers can substructure wildlife populations within a few generations and highlights the value of genetic assessments to determine the effects on connectivity among habitat patches in conjunction with behavioral and ecological data.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, under the guidance of Herman Griese, Christopher Garner, Dave Battle, and Richard Graham. The military conservation agent program on Elmendorf Air base, Joe Welch, and Anchorage area Alaska Fish and Game staff provided extensive field assistance in Anchorage. John Crouse, Jeff Selinger, and pilots Jose DeCreeft, Tommy Levanger, and Joe Fieldman provided field assistance on the Kenai Peninsula. Kevin Sage and Sarah Sonsthagen provided laboratory and manuscript advice, while Kris Hundertmark provided advice on marker selection and Tony Fischbach, Gretchen Roeffler, Matt Sexson, and Elizabeth Solomon provided help on analytical and mapping issues. Three anonymous reviewers also provided helpful comments. Use of trade or product names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Wilson, R.E., Farley, S.D., McDonough, T.J. et al. A genetic discontinuity in moose (Alces alces) in Alaska corresponds with fenced transportation infrastructure. Conserv Genet 16, 791–800 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-015-0700-x

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Keywords

  • Alces alces
  • Anthropogenic barrier
  • Fragmentation
  • Roads
  • Genetic spatial structure