Disease and freeways drive genetic change in urban bobcat populations

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Abstract

Urbanization profoundly impacts animal populations by causing isolation, increased susceptibility to disease, and exposure to toxicants. Genetic effects include reduced effective population size, increased population substructure, and decreased adaptive potential. We investigated the influence that urbanization and a disease epizootic had on the population genetics of bobcats (Lynx rufus) distributed across a highly fragmented urban landscape. We genotyped more than 300 bobcats, sampled from 1996 to 2012, for variation at nine neutral and seven immune gene-linked microsatellite loci. We found that two freeways are significant barriers to gene flow. Further, a 3-year disease epizootic, associated with secondary anticoagulant rodenticide exposure, caused a population bottleneck that led to significant genetic differentiation between pre- and post-disease populations that was greater than that between populations separated by major freeways for >60 years. However, balancing selection acted on immune-linked loci during the epizootic, maintaining variation at functional regions. Conservation assessments need to assay loci that are potentially under selection to better preserve the adaptive potential of populations at the urban–wildland interface. Further, interconnected regions that contain appropriate habitat for wildlife will be critical to the long-term viability of animal populations in urban landscapes.

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