Habitat fragmentation reduces genetic connectivity for multiple species, yet conservation efforts tend to rely heavily on single-species connectivity estimates to inform land-use planning. Such conservation activities may benefit from multi-species connectivity estimates, which provide a simple and practical means to mitigate the effects of habitat fragmentation for a larger number of species. To test the validity of a multi-species connectivity model, we used neutral microsatellite genetic datasets of Canada lynx ( Lynx canadensis), American marten ( Martes americana), fisher ( Pekania pennanti), and southern flying squirrel ( Glaucomys volans) to evaluate multi-species genetic connectivity across Ontario, Canada.
We used linear models to compare node-based estimates of genetic connectivity for each species to point-based estimates of landscape connectivity (current density) derived from circuit theory. To our knowledge, we are the first to evaluate current density as a measure of genetic connectivity. Our results depended on landscape context: habitat amount was more important than current density in explaining multi-species genetic connectivity in the northern part of our study area, where habitat was abundant and fragmentation was low. In the south however, where fragmentation was prevalent, genetic connectivity was correlated with current density. Contrary to our expectations however, locations with a high probability of movement as reflected by high current density were negatively associated with gene flow. Subsequent analyses of circuit theory outputs showed that high current density was also associated with high effective resistance, underscoring that the presence of pinch points is not necessarily indicative of gene flow.
Overall, our study appears to provide support for the hypothesis that landscape pattern is important when habitat amount is low. We also conclude that while current density is proportional to the probability of movement per unit area, this does not imply increased gene flow, since high current density tends to be a result of neighbouring pixels with high cost of movement (e.g., low habitat amount). In other words, pinch points with high current density appear to constrict gene flow.