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Fine-scale genetic structure and conservation status of American badgers at their northwestern range periphery

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Abstract

Peripheral populations are often characterized by small population size and low genetic diversity, with many at risk of extirpation. These characteristics may be even more pronounced in human-modified landscapes that further reduce the resiliency of populations to environmental change. Situated at the northwestern edge of the species’ range, the western American badger (Taxidea taxus jeffersonii) is an endangered mammal in Canada, where it inhabits the interior grassland and open forest ecosystems of British Columbia (BC) and continues to be threatened by severe vehicle-induced mortality rates and other anthropogenic factors. Here, we collected mitochondrial DNA haplotypic and microsatellite genotypic data to investigate the extent and distribution of American badger genetic variation within and among sites in British Columbia, and relative to adjacent populations in the USA, including in Washington state. From these data, we reconstructed population structure and connectivity, and examined current designatable unit status. Patterns of genetic variation for American badgers in British Columbia were as expected for peripheral populations, including reduced genetic diversity, increased population differentiation, and evidence of demographic contraction. Furthermore, we found limited connectivity between regional populations in our study area and identified significant substructure isolating the most northwestern sampling unit (Cariboo), findings that starkly contrast with the high levels of gene flow observed between populations across the species’ range core. These results have important implications for current designatable unit status for western American badgers in British Columbia and emphasize the need for further population monitoring and mitigation of potential barriers to gene flow.

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Data archiving

Microsatellite genotypes have been archived in the Dryad Digital Repository: doi:10.5061/dryad.cj3v894. Mitochondrial DNA sequences have been deposited in GenBank (accession numbers MK882700 - MK882852).

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (RW, KL, MR), the Land-Based Investment Strategy of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (RW), and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery grant (MR). Helen Davis (Artemis Wildlife Consultants); Addison Fosbery, Dixon Terbasket, Al Peatt (Okanagan Nation Alliance); Scott Fitkin, Jeff Heinlen, Annemarie Prince, and Orrin Duvuvuei (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife); and Kelly McAllister (Washington Department of Transportation) assisted with sample collection. The Royal British Columbia Museum, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Charles R. Conner Museum, James R. Slater Museum of Natural History, and Phillip L. Wright Zoological Museum provided access to specimens. Jason Pither, Lael Parrott and Wade Klaver (UBC) provided access to computing resources and technical assistance.

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Ford, B.M., Weir, R.D., Lewis, J.C. et al. Fine-scale genetic structure and conservation status of American badgers at their northwestern range periphery. Conserv Genet 20, 1023–1034 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-019-01192-2

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