Main content area

High gene flow in the American badger overrides habitat preferences and limits broadscale genetic structure

Kierepka, E. M., Latch, E. K.
Molecular ecology 2016 v.25 no.24 pp. 6055-6076
Taxidea taxus, badgers, clay soils, climate change, data collection, forests, gene flow, habitat preferences, habitats, microsatellite repeats, mitochondria, prediction, Lake Michigan, Mississippi River
Habitat associations are a function of habitat preferences and dispersal capabilities, both of which can influence how species responded to Quaternary climatic changes and contemporary habitat heterogeneity. Predicting resultant genetic structure is not always straightforward, especially in species where high dispersal potential and habitat preferences yield opposing predictions. The American badger has high dispersal capabilities that predict widespread panmixia, but avoids closed‐canopy forests and clay soils, which could restrict gene flow and create ecologically based population genetic structure. We used mitochondrial sequence and microsatellite data sets to characterize how these opposing forces contribute to genetic structure in badgers at a continent‐wide scale. Our data revealed an overall lack of ecologically based population genetic structure, suggesting that high dispersal capabilities were sufficiently realized to overcome most habitat‐based genetic structure. At a broadscale, badger gene flow is limited only by geographic distance (isolation by distance) and large water barriers (Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River). The absence of genetic structure in a species with strong avoidance of unsuitable habitats advances our understanding of when and how genetic structure emerges in widespread, highly mobile species.