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Landscape genetic connectivity in European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris): a matter of food, shelters and demographic status of populations

Abstract

Understanding landscape impacts on gene flow is necessary to plan comprehensive management and conservation strategies of both the species of interest and its habitat. Nevertheless, only a few studies have focused on the landscape genetic connectivity of the European wildcat, an umbrella species whose conservation allows the preservation of numerous other species and habitat types. We applied population and landscape genetics approaches, using genotypes at 30 microsatellites from 232 genetically-identified wildcats to determine if, and how, landscape impacted gene flow throughout France. Analyses were performed independently within two population patches: the historical north-eastern patch and the central patch considered as the colonization front. Our results showed that gene flow occurred at large spatial scales but also revealed significant spatial genetic structures within population patches. In both population patches, arable areas, pastures and permanent grasslands and lowly fragmented forested areas were permeable to gene flow, suggesting that shelters and dietary resources are among the most important parameters for French wildcat landscape connectivity, while distance to forest had no detectable effect. Anthropized areas appeared highly resistant in the north-eastern patch but highly permeable in the central patch, suggesting that different behaviours can be observed according to the demographic context in which populations are found. In line with this hypothesis, spatial distribution of genetic variability seemed uneven in the north-eastern patch and more clinal in the central patch. Overall, our results highlighted that European wildcat might be a habitat generalist species and also the importance of performing spatial replication in landscape genetics studies.

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Data Availability

Microsatellite data are available from the figshare repository at 10.6084/m9.figshare.19144643. Precise spatial coordinates for wild individuals are available upon reasonable demand from the corresponding and the last author.

Code availability

Not applicable.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all the students, technicians and officers, especially Jean-Luc Wilhem, for their help in the collection of cats and in the laboratory. This study was supported by the French Biodiversity Agency (Office Français de la Biodiversité) and the University of Lyon-CNRS. We also gratefully acknowledge the CC LBBE/PRABI for providing computer resources, and the bioinformatics team of LBBE for their advice on computational optimization of scripts. Finally, we thank Mrs. Elizabeth Kennedy-Overton for English proofreading and one anonymous reviewer for useful comments on the first version of the manuscript.

Funding

This research project and E. Portanier were funded by the Office Français de la Biodiversité, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, the Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Évolutive and the Antagene Laboratory.

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Contributions

EP, SR and SD: conceptualized and designed the research. FL and LH: did the field work. GQ: conducted laboratories steps. EP: conducted data analyses except for molecular identification which were performed by TG and SD. EP: wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed in interpreting the results and writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Elodie Portanier.

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Portanier, E., Léger, F., Henry, L. et al. Landscape genetic connectivity in European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris): a matter of food, shelters and demographic status of populations. Conserv Genet 23, 653–668 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-022-01443-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-022-01443-9

Keywords

  • Felis s. silvestris
  • France
  • Landscape genetics
  • Linear mixed effects model
  • Maximum-likelihood population effect
  • Population genetics