Ancuta Fedorca , 1 , 2 , Isa-Rita M. Russo 3 , Ovidiu Ionescu 1 , 2 , Georgeta Ionescu 1 , 2 , Marius Popa 1 , 2 , Mihai Fedorca 1 , 2 , Alexandru Lucian Curtu 2 , Neculae Sofletea 2 , Gary M. Tabor 4 , Michael W. Bruford 3
1 July 2019
Landscape genetics is increasingly being used in landscape planning for biodiversity conservation by assessing habitat connectivity and identifying landscape barriers, using intraspecific genetic data and quantification of landscape heterogeneity to statistically test the link between genetic variation and landscape variability. In this study we used genetic data to understand how landscape features and environmental factors influence demographic connectedness in Europe’s largest brown bear population and to assist in mitigating planned infrastructure development in Romania. Model-based clustering inferred one large and continuous bear population across the Carpathians suggesting that suitable bear habitat has not become sufficiently fragmented to restrict movement of individuals. However, at a finer scale, large rivers, often located alongside large roads with heavy traffic, were found to restrict gene flow significantly, while eastern facing slopes promoted genetic exchange. Since the proposed highway infrastructure development threatens to fragment regions of the Carpathians where brown bears occur, we develop a decision support tool based on models that assess the landscape configuration needed for brown bear conservation using wildlife corridor parameters. Critical brown bear corridors were identified through spatial mapping and connectivity models, which may be negatively influenced by infrastructure development and which therefore require mitigation. We recommend that current and proposed infrastructure developments incorporate these findings into their design and where possible avoid construction measures that may further fragment Romania’s brown bear population or include mitigation measures where alternative routes are not feasible.