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Identification of a contact zone and hybridization for two subspecies of the American pika (Ochotona princeps) within a single protected area

TitleIdentification of a contact zone and hybridization for two subspecies of the American pika (Ochotona princeps) within a single protected area
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsVardaro J.AC, Epps C.W, Frable B.W, Ray C.
JournalPlos One
Date Published2018/07
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000438388800015
Keywordsbighorn sheep; climate-change; dispersal; evolutionary; gene flow; hybrid zones; lagomorpha; population-structure; r-package; Science & Technology - Other Topics; western great-basin

Genetic variation is the basis upon which natural selection acts to yield evolutionary change. In a rapidly changing environment, increasing genetic variation should increase evolutionary potential, particularly for small, isolated populations. However, the introduction of new alleles, either through natural or human-mediated processes, may have unpredictable consequences such as outbreeding depression. In this study, we identified a contact zone and limited gene flow between historically separated genetic lineages of American pikas (Ochotona princeps), representing the northern and southern Rocky Mountain subspecies, within Rocky Mountain National Park. The limited spatial extent of gene flow observed may be the result of geographic barriers to dispersal, selection against hybrid individuals, or both. Our fine-scale population genetic analysis suggests gene flow is limited but not completely obstructed by extreme topography such as glacial valleys, as well as streams including the Colorado River. The discovery of two subspecies within this single protected area has implications for monitoring and management, particularly in the light of recent analyses suggesting that the pikas in this park are vulnerable to fragmentation and local extinction under future projected climates. Future research should focus on the fitness consequences of introgression among distinct genetic lineages in this location and elsewhere, as well as within the context of genetic rescue as a conservation and management strategy for a climate sensitive species.

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