The Genetic Structure of American Black Bear Populations in the Southern Rocky Mountains

Rachel C. Larson, Rebecca Kirby, Nick Kryshak, Mathew Alldredge, David B. McDonald, Jonathan N. Pauli

Abstract


Large and wide-ranging carnivores typically display genetic connectivity across their distributional range. American black bears (Ursus americanus) are vagile carnivores and habitat generalists. However, they are strongly associated with forested habitats; consequently, habitat patchiness and fragmentation have the potential to drive connectivity and the resultant structure between black bear subpopulations. Our analysis of genetic structure of black bears in the southern Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Colorado (n = 296) revealed two discrete populations: bears in northern Wyoming were distinct (FST = 0.217) from bears in southern Wyoming and Colorado, despite higher densities of anthropogenic development within Colorado. The differentiation we observed indicates that bears in Wyoming originated from two different clades with structure driven by the pattern of contiguous forest, rather than the simple distance between populations. We posit that forested habitat and competitive interactions with brown bears reinforced patterns of genetic structure resulting from historic colonization. Our work suggests that forested habitat is an important force structuring populations in the southern Rocky Mountains, even for populations of highly vagile carnivores.

Keywords


competition, genetic, connectivity, landscape, microsatellite, American Black Bear, Ursidae, carnivore, habitat, Rocky Mountains, Colorado, Wyoming

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