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      Multi-species genetic connectivity in a terrestrial habitat network

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          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.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (10.1186/s40462-017-0112-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references 47

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          What can genetics tell us about population connectivity?

          Genetic data are often used to assess 'population connectivity' because it is difficult to measure dispersal directly at large spatial scales. Genetic connectivity, however, depends primarily on the absolute number of dispersers among populations, whereas demographic connectivity depends on the relative contributions to population growth rates of dispersal vs. local recruitment (i.e. survival and reproduction of residents). Although many questions are best answered with data on genetic connectivity, genetic data alone provide little information on demographic connectivity. The importance of demographic connectivity is clear when the elimination of immigration results in a shift from stable or positive population growth to negative population growth. Otherwise, the amount of dispersal required for demographic connectivity depends on the context (e.g. conservation or harvest management), and even high dispersal rates may not indicate demographic interdependence. Therefore, it is risky to infer the importance of demographic connectivity without information on local demographic rates and how those rates vary over time. Genetic methods can provide insight on demographic connectivity when combined with these local demographic rates, data on movement behaviour, or estimates of reproductive success of immigrants and residents. We also consider the strengths and limitations of genetic measures of connectivity and discuss three concepts of genetic connectivity that depend upon the evolutionary criteria of interest: inbreeding connectivity, drift connectivity, and adaptive connectivity. To conclude, we describe alternative approaches for assessing population connectivity, highlighting the value of combining genetic data with capture-mark-recapture methods or other direct measures of movement to elucidate the complex role of dispersal in natural populations.
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            The application of ‘least-cost’ modelling as a functional landscape model

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              Using circuit theory to model connectivity in ecology, evolution, and conservation.

              Connectivity among populations and habitats is important for a wide range of ecological processes. Understanding, preserving, and restoring connectivity in complex landscapes requires connectivity models and metrics that are reliable, efficient, and process based. We introduce a new class of ecological connectivity models based in electrical circuit theory. Although they have been applied in other disciplines, circuit-theoretic connectivity models are new to ecology. They offer distinct advantages over common analytic connectivity models, including a theoretical basis in random walk theory and an ability to evaluate contributions of multiple dispersal pathways. Resistance, current, and voltage calculated across graphs or raster grids can be related to ecological processes (such as individual movement and gene flow) that occur across large population networks or landscapes. Efficient algorithms can quickly solve networks with millions of nodes, or landscapes with millions of raster cells. Here we review basic circuit theory, discuss relationships between circuit and random walk theories, and describe applications in ecology, evolution, and conservation. We provide examples of how circuit models can be used to predict movement patterns and fates of random walkers in complex landscapes and to identify important habitat patches and movement corridors for conservation planning.

                Author and article information

                Mov Ecol
                Mov Ecol
                Movement Ecology
                BioMed Central (London )
                6 October 2017
                6 October 2017
                : 5
                [1 ]ISNI 0000 0001 1090 2022, GRID grid.52539.38, Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate Program, , Trent University, ; Peterborough, Canada
                [2 ]Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Peterborough, Canada
                [3 ]ISNI 0000 0001 1090 2022, GRID grid.52539.38, Biology Department, , Trent University, ; Peterborough, Canada
                © The Author(s). 2017

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                Funded by: FundRef http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100000038, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada;
                Award ID: Discovery Grant
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: FundRef http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/100008138, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry;
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                © The Author(s) 2017


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