Historical decline of genetic diversity in a range-periphery population of Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) inhabiting the Adirondack Mountains

Abstract

Isolation can affect genetic structure of populations near the edge of a species’ geographic range by reducing gene flow and allelic diversity, resulting in greater among-population differentiation. Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), which are restricted to the boreal forest biome of North America, persist in small, disjunct lowland conifer patches at the southeastern extent of their range in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. This isolated peripheral population has declined since the early twentieth century and is considered highly vulnerable to extirpation. We examined haplotype diversity of mitochondrial control region sequences, comparing modern Spruce Grouse populations sampled from 2004 to 2013 in the Adirondacks and Algonquin Provincial Park, ca. 250 km to the northwest. Genetic diversity in the modern Adirondack population sample was very low compared to our smaller sample from Algonquin Park (three haplotypes vs seven). The modern Adirondack population shared no haplotypes with birds sampled from Algonquin, and these two populations are highly differentiated today (Fst = 0.632). We obtained shorter control region sequences from 18 museum specimens collected in the Adirondack from 1881 to 1986, in which we found six haplotypes, including five no longer found in the Adirondack Region. Some haplotypes that were once found in both regions have been lost from the Adirondacks as that population has declined demographically and shrunk geographically, indicating that the current differentiation is partly the result of these losses; when all 18 historical samples of Adirondack Spruce Grouse are included in the analysis, Fst between Adirondacks and Algonquin drops to 0.359. Haplotype diversity in Adirondack specimens collected prior to demographic decline (1881–1905, n = 10) was h = 0.778 compared to h = 0.245 in the modern Adirondack population, an over a three-fold decrease over period of ca. 130 years. These findings suggest that conservation measures that include supplementation of individuals from more diverse populations may restore genetic diversity in the Adirondack population to levels that existed a century ago.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the curators and collections staff at these institutions for allowing us to sample toe pads from Spruce Grouse specimens: American Museum of Natural History, Buffalo Museum of Science, Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates, Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard University), Roosevelt Wildlife Collection (SUNY-ESF), and Rochester Museum and Science Center. Tissue samples from Alberta, Canada, were provided by Andrew Iwaniuk (University of Lethbridge). Funding for lab work was provided by the New York State Museum. Field work was funded by the New York State Wildlife Grants and Pittman-Robertson Act funds from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Funding was also provided by the New York Natural Heritage Program, the Edna Bailey Sussman Fund, the American Wildlife Research Foundation, the Joseph and Joan Cullman Conservation Foundation, the Walker Fellowship, the Robert J. Hill Endowment for Environmental Science, Northern New York Audubon, and State University of New York at Potsdam Research and Sponsored Programs. We are grateful to N. Cranker, T. Crockett, C. Fuller, K. Gorzynski, A. Hollister, B. Jesmer, P. Novak, S. Plautz, S. Schlueter, and A. Sorrell for field assistance. G. Batcheller, M. Brown, L. Durfey, J.F. Farquhar III, N. Gibbs, T.W. Gilman, M. Glennon, W.H. Gordon, K. Kogut, S. Langdon, B.A. Loucks, K. Moser, P. Novak, P. Nye, J. Ozard, P. Riexinger, D. Rosenblatt, S. Ross, and M. Williams provided invaluable logistical support. For permission to survey and capture grouse we thank the landowners and staff of Bay Pond Park, Kildare Club, The Nature Conservancy, Timbervest, LandVest, Lyme Timber, Fountain Forestry, M & W Forestry, Molpus Woodlands Group, Joe Indian Pond Association, Finch Pruyn, Rayonier, Ross Park, Seneca Waterways Boy Scout Council, Elk Lake, Brandreth Park, and Shingle Shanty Preserve.

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Kirchman, J.J., Ross, A.M. & Johnson, G. Historical decline of genetic diversity in a range-periphery population of Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) inhabiting the Adirondack Mountains. Conserv Genet 21, 373–380 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-019-01246-5

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Keywords

  • Adirondack Mountains
  • Extirpation
  • Museum specimens
  • Insular population
  • Spruce grouse