Fragmented landscapes resulting from anthropogenic habitat modification can have significant impacts on dispersal, gene flow, and persistence of wildlife populations. Therefore, quantifying population connectivity across a mosaic of habitats in highly modified landscapes is critical for the development of conservation management plans for threatened populations. Endangered populations of the eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) in New York and New Jersey are at the northern edge of the species’ range and remaining populations persist in highly developed landscapes in both states. We used landscape genetic approaches to examine regional genetic population structure and potential barriers to migration among remaining populations. Despite the post-glacial demographic processes that have shaped genetic diversity in tiger salamander populations at the northern extent of their range, we found that populations in each state belong to distinct genetic clusters, consistent with the large geographic distance that separates them. We detected overall low genetic diversity and high relatedness within populations, likely due to recent range expansion, isolation, and relatively small population sizes. Nonetheless, landscape connectivity analyses reveal habitat corridors among remaining breeding ponds. Furthermore, molecular estimates of population connectivity among ponds indicate that gene flow still occurs at regional scales. Further fragmentation of remaining habitat will potentially restrict dispersal among breeding ponds, cause the erosion of genetic diversity, and exacerbate already high levels of inbreeding. We recommend the continued management and maintenance of habitat corridors to ensure long-term viability of these endangered populations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics