Deciphering Ecological Barriers to North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) Gene Flow in the Louisiana Landscape

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For North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) in Louisiana, statewide distribution, availability of aquatic habitats, and the absence of physical barriers to dispersal might suggest that they exist as a large, panmictic population. However, the wide variety of habitat types in this region, and the dynamic nature of these habitats over time, could potentially structure river otter populations in accordance with cryptic landscape features. Recently developed landscape genetic models offer a spatially explicit approach that could be useful in identifying potential barriers to the movement of river otters through the dynamic aquatic landscape of Louisiana. We used georeferenced multilocus microsatellite genotypes in spatially implicit (STRUCTURE) and spatially explicit (GENELAND) models to characterize patterns of landscape genetic structure. All models identified 3 subpopulations of river otters in Louisiana, corresponding to Inland, Atchafalaya River, and Mississippi River regions. Variation in breeding seasonality, brought about by variation in prey abundance between inland and coastal populations, may have contributed to genetic differentiation among populations. It is also possible that the genetic discontinuities we observed indicate a correlation between otter distribution and access to freshwater. Regardless of the mechanism, it is likely that any genetic differentiation among subpopulations is exacerbated by relatively poor dispersal.


Latch, Emily K., Daniel G. Scognamillo, Jennifer A. Fike, Michael J. Chamberlain, and Olin E. Rhodes. "Deciphering ecological barriers to North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) gene flow in the Louisiana landscape." Journal of Heredity 99, no. 3 (2008): 265-274.



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