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Walking in a heterogeneous landscape: Dispersal, gene flow and conservation implications for the giant panda in the Qinling Mountains

Ma, Tianxiao, Hu, Yibo, Russo, Isa-Rita M., Nie, Yonggang, Yang, Tianyou, Xiong, Lijuan, Ma, Shuai, Meng, Tao, Han, Han, Zhang, Ximing, Bruford, Michael W. and Wei, Fuwen 2018. Walking in a heterogeneous landscape: Dispersal, gene flow and conservation implications for the giant panda in the Qinling Mountains. Evolutionary Applications 11 (10) , pp. 1859-1872. 10.1111/eva.12686

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Abstract

Understanding the interaction between life history, demography and population genetics in threatened species is critical for the conservations of viable populations. In the context of habitat loss and fragmentation, identifying the factors that underpin the structuring of genetic variation within populations can allow conservationists to evaluate habitat quality and connectivity and help to design dispersal corridors effectively. In this study, we carried out a detailed, fine‐scale landscape genetic investigation of a giant panda population from the Qinling Mountains for the first time. With a large microsatellite data set and complementary analysis methods, we examined the role of isolation‐by‐barriers (IBB), isolation‐by‐distance (IBD) and isolation‐by‐resistance (IBR) in shaping the pattern of genetic variation in this giant panda population. We found that the Qinling population comprises one continuous genetic cluster, and among the landscape hypotheses tested, gene flow was found to be correlated with resistance gradients for two topographic factors, slope aspect and topographic complexity, rather than geographical distance or barriers. Gene flow was inferred to be facilitated by easterly slope aspect and to be constrained by topographically complex landscapes. These factors are related to benign microclimatic conditions for both the pandas and the food resources they rely on and more accessible topographic conditions for movement, respectively. We identified optimal corridors based on these results, aiming to promote gene flow between human‐induced habitat fragments. These findings provide insight into the permeability and affinities of giant panda habitats and offer important reference for the conservation of the giant panda and its habitat.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1752-4571
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 18 September 2018
Date of Acceptance: 16 July 2018
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2019 16:41
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/115024

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