Conservation Genetics

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1011–1024 | Cite as

Forest cover mediates genetic connectivity of northwestern cougars

  • Matthew J. WarrenEmail author
  • David O. Wallin
  • Richard A. Beausoleil
  • Kenneth I. Warheit
Research Article


Population structure, connectivity, and dispersal success of individuals can be challenging to demonstrate for solitary carnivores with low population densities. Though the cougar (Puma concolor) is widely distributed throughout North America and is capable of dispersing long distances, populations can be geographically structured and genetic isolation has been documented in some small populations. We described genetic structure and explored the relationship between landscape resistance and genetic variation in cougars in Washington and southern British Columbia using allele frequencies of 17 microsatellite loci for felids. We evaluated population structure of cougars using the Geneland clustering algorithm and spatial principal components analysis. We then used Circuitscape to estimate the landscape resistance between pairs of individuals based on rescaled GIS layers for forest canopy cover, elevation, human population density and highways. We quantified the effect of landscape resistance on genetic distance using multiple regression on distance matrices and boosted regression tree analysis. Cluster analysis identified four populations in the study area. Multiple regression on distance matrices and boosted regression tree models indicated that only forest canopy cover and geographic distance between individuals had an effect on genetic distance. The boundaries between genetic clusters largely corresponded with breaks in forest cover, showing agreement between population structure and genetic gradient analyses. Our data indicate that forest cover promotes gene flow for cougars in the Pacific Northwest, which provides insight managers can use to preserve or enhance genetic connectivity.


Landscape genetics Puma concolor Multiple regression on distance matrices Boosted regression trees Spatial PCA Gene flow Genetic structure 



We thank Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff for diligently collecting samples from all known cougar mortalities for use in this project. Also, thanks to Cathy Lacey and Brian Harris with British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and compulsory inspectors for assistance in BC. All genotyping was performed by WDFW’s Molecular Genetics Laboratory in Olympia, Washington. We would also like to thank Spencer Houck and Heidi Rodenhizer for assistance with GIS processing. Finally, we thank the following hound handlers for volunteering their time and expertise on research projects: R. Eich, B. Heath, K. Lester, D Likens, T. MacArthur, K. Reber, S. Reynaud, C. Sanchez, B. Smith, C. Smith, M. Thorniley, B. Thorniley, and B. Trudell and M. White. Washington State General and Wildlife Funds were used in part to fund the production of the genetic data. Funding for this project was provided by WDFW, Seattle City Light, Washington Chapter of the Wildlife Society, North Cascades Audubon Society, and Huxley College of the Environment.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oregon Department of Fish and WildlifeLa GrandeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Sciences, Huxley College of the EnvironmentWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA
  3. 3.Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWenatcheeUSA
  4. 4.Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeOlympiaUSA

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