Origins of genetic variation and population structure of foxsnakes across spatial and temporal scales
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Understanding the events and processes responsible for patterns of within species diversity, provides insight into major evolutionary themes like adaptation, species distributions, and ultimately speciation itself. Here, I combine ecological, genetic and spatial perspectives to evaluate the roles that both historical and contemporary factors have played in shaping the population structure and genetic variation of foxsnakes (Pantherophis gloydi). First, I determine the likely impact of habitat loss on population distribution, through radio-telemetry (32 individuals) at two locations varying in habitat patch size. As predicted, individuals had similar habitat use patterns, but restricted movements to patches of suitable habitat at the more disturbed site. Also, occurrence records spread across a fragmented region were non-randomly distributed and located close to patches of usable habitat, suggesting habitat distribution limits population distribution. Next, I combined habitat suitability modeling with population genetics (589 individuals, 12 microsatellite loci) to infer how foxsnakes disperse through a mosaic of natural and altered landscape features. Boundary regions between genetic clusters were comprised of low suitability habitat (e.g. agricultural fields). Island populations were grouped into a single genetic cluster suggesting open water presents less of a barrier than non-suitable terrestrial habitat. Isolation by distance models had a stronger correlation with genetic data when including resistance values derived from habitat suitability maps, suggesting habitat degradation limits dispersal for foxsnakes. At larger temporal and spatial scales I quantified patterns of genetic diversity and population structure using mitochondrial (101 cytochrome b sequences) and microsatellite (816 individuals, 12 loci) DNA and used Approximate Bayesian computation to test competing models of demographic history. Supporting my predictions, I found models with populations which have undergone population size drops and splitting events continually had more support than models with small founding populations expanding to stable populations. Based on timing, the most likely cause was the cooling of temperatures and infilling of deciduous forest since the Hypisthermal. On a smaller scale, evidence suggested anthropogenic habitat loss has caused further decline and fragmentation. Mitochondrial DNA structure did not correspond to fragmented populations and the majority of foxsnakes had an identical haplotype, suggesting a past bottleneck or selective sweep.