Isolation by Distance Shapes Population Genetic Structure of a Rare Terrestrial Salamander, Plethodon petraeus, with an Extremely Small Range
Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology
—Globally, amphibian species are experiencing declines at an alarming rate largely due to habitat loss, disease, and climate change. Species with limited distributions are at an elevated risk of a significant decline and extinction because of the inability to avoid and recover from these impacts. Long-term management plans are critical for conservation of species with small ranges; however, the knowledge required to develop effective plans is absent from the literature for many species. The distribution of the Pigeon Mountain Salamander, Plethodon petraeus, is restricted to roughly 17 km along the eastern flank of Pigeon Mountain in northwest Georgia, USA. Consequently, P. petraeus is highly vulnerable to the impacts associated with amphibian declines, a fact that placed the salamander on the list of rare and protected species in Georgia. The distribution of P. petraeus is highly correlated with patchily distributed rocky outcrops, which provide a tangible management habitat target. The development of an effective, long-term management plan requires an understanding of genetic population structure, gene flow, and habitat use patterns. We identified polymorphic cross-amplified microsatellites to determine how genetic diversity is structured across the distribution. Population genetic analyses revealed four distinct populations across the known range of P. petraeus and significant isolation-by-distance genetic structuring.
Herpetological Conservation and Biology
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