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Do common dispersal influences inform a large lizard’s landscape-scale gene flow?

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Abstract

The dispersal tendencies of individuals can provide an important adaptive basis to counter environmental and ecological variation to increase fitness and benefit populations. We evaluated whether indirect genetic-based measures of dispersal of a large monitor lizard (Varanus varius) were sex-biased and further covaried with putative demographic and ecological differences across a forest ecotone in Southern Australia. The mean corrected assignment index (i.e., mAIC) estimated that lace monitors had significant male-biased dispersal. There was strong evidence that common dispersal promoting influences, including lace monitor density and arboreal mammal prey availability, but not the overall male-biased sex ratio, differed with forest type across the ecotone. These different forest types influenced the extent of sex-biased dispersal, with lace monitors captured in banksia woodland having a significant male bias in dispersal, whilst lace monitors sampled in adjacent eucalypt forest showed no difference in assignment values indicating no sex-biased dispersal. However, individual-based spatial autocorrelation analyses and mixed effect models indicated no spatial mediated genetic structuring nor evidence of sex or habitat-related effects. Estimates of recent migration (i.e., < 3 generations) indicated strong and symmetrical migration between banksia woodland and eucalypt forest patches suggesting limited habitat resistance to gene flow across an ecotonal landscape. Not discounting method-specific evidence for male- and forest-type-biased dispersal, the absence of spatial genetic structuring suggests lace monitors retain a high dispersal capacity. An absence of landscape-scale genetic structure is consistent with this species’s high vagility. This landscape-scale result is further supported because only the most significant biogeographic barriers (e.g., mountain ranges) impede gene flow within the species’ extensive range distribution, allowing for genetic structuring among populations.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of several volunteers, especially Tim Lockwood, for their help with fieldwork.

Funding

Zoos Victoria provided research funding for the “forest for life” project.

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Conceptualization, resources and funding acquisition: TSJ, JMS; Methodology: TSJ, PS, JA, CS; Data collection: TSJ, PS, JA; Analysis and the original draft: TSJ, PS, CS, JSM; Review and editing: TSJ, JSM.

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Correspondence to Tim S. Jessop.

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The research was carried out under research permits 10005634 from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria, and Animal Experimental Ethics Committee approval 0911328.2 (University of Melbourne).

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Jessop, T.S., Smissen, P., Anson, J.R. et al. Do common dispersal influences inform a large lizard’s landscape-scale gene flow?. Evol Ecol 36, 987–1006 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-022-10208-2

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