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High Connectivity and Minimal Genetic Structure Among North American Boreal Owl (Aegolius Funereus) Populations, Regardless of Habitat Matrix

Koopman, M. E.
Hayward, G. D.
McDonald, David
Habitat connectivity and corridors are often assumed to be critical for the persistence of patchily distributed populations, but empirical evidence for this assumption is scarce. We assessed the importance of connectivity among habitat patches for dispersal by a mature-forest obligate, the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus). Boreal Owls demonstrated a lack of genetic structure (ϴ = 0.004 ± 0.002 [SE]) among subpopulations, regardless of matrix type and extent, which indicates that unforested matrix does not act as a barrier to dispersal for this vagile species. We found only slightly higher genetic distances (Cavalli-Sforza chord distances ranged from 0.015 to 0.025) among patchily distributed Rocky Mountain subpopulations as compared with largely contiguous boreal-forest subpopulations (0.013 to 0.019) and no evidence of a genetic split across the expansive high plains of Wyoming. Even the most isolated subalpine patches are connected via gene flow. As northern boreal forests continue to experience intensive harvest of mature stands, geographic dispersion of Boreal Owl habitat may begin to more closely resemble that found in the Rocky Mountains. We suggest that decreased connectivity poses much less of a threat to continued abundance of this mature-forest obligate than overall loss of nesting and foraging habitat. Assessment of the importance of corridors and connectivity should be conducted on a species-by-species basis, given the variation in response of species to discontinuity of habitat, even among closely related taxa or guilds.
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University of Wyoming. Libraries
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Aegolius funereus,Boreal Owl,connectivity,corridors,dispersal,gene flow,genetic structure,microsatellites,Zoology
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