Genetic differentiation in wolves

Dispersal in a plain landscape: short-distance genetic differentiation in southwestern Manitoba wolves, Canada

Authors Astrid V. Stronen • Graham J. Forbes • Paul C. Paquet • Gloria Goulet • Tim Sallows • Marco Musiani


Stronen, A.V., G.J. Forbes, P.C. Paquet, G. Goulet, T.Sallows, M.Musiani. 2012. Dispersal in a plain landscape: short-distance genetic differentiation in southwestern Manitoba wolves, Canada. Conservation Genetics  13:359–371

Download Stronen et al 2012-Landscape resistance to dispersal


The effects of human-caused fragmentation require further study in landscapes where physical dispersal barriers and natural ecological transitions can be discounted as causes for population genetic structure. We predict that fragmentation can reduce dispersal across such barrier-free landscapes because dispersal also is limited by a perception of risk. Considerable fragmentation has occurred in the Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP)region in Manitoba, Canada, during the past 60 years.

We examine data from 13 autosomal microsatellites to determine whether fragmentation is correlated with genetic population structure in wolves (Canis lupus). Moderate and significant differentiation between RMNP and a genetic cluster identified 30 km farther north (FST = 0.053, 95% CI 1) is consistent with predicted effects of fragmentation. The RMNP population cluster represents at least seven wolf packs followed weekly by radio tracking during 2003–2006.

Distinct mtDNA haplotypes have been identified in the Park and no successful wolf dispersal from RMNP has been documented in several multi-year tracking studies since 1974. Tracking data also indicate that some wolves might be reluctant to leave RMNP. Although the influence of behaviour and local adaptation require investigation, human-caused fragmentation appears to have caused cryptic genetic structure on fine spatiotemporal scales in a vagile species that is: (1) not influenced by physical movement barriers or historical ecological discontinuities in our study area, and; (2) able to live relatively close to humans.

The Great Plains is now an intensely human-managed landscape. Detection of cryptic genetic structure could therefore function as an important indicator in conservation management.

Keywords: Canis lupus  Dispersal  Fragmentation Gene flow  Isolation

  1. 031–0.073

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