A Comparative Analysis of Genetic Diversity and Structure in Jaguars (Panthera onca), Pumas (Puma concolor), and Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) in Fragmented Landscapes of a Critical Mesoamerican Linkage Zone
Waits, Lisette P.
Kelly, Marcella J.
MetadataShow full item record
With increasing anthropogenic impact and landscape change, terrestrial carnivore populations are becoming more fragmented. Thus, it is crucial to genetically monitor wild carnivores and quantify changes in genetic diversity and gene flow in response to these threats. This study combined the use of scat detector dogs and molecular scatology to conduct the first genetic study on wild populations of multiple Neotropical felids coexisting across a fragmented landscape in Belize, Central America. We analyzed data from 14 polymorphic microsatellite loci in 1053 scat samples collected from wild jaguars (Panthera onca), pumas (Puma concolor), and ocelots (Leopardus pardalis). We assessed levels of genetic diversity, defined potential genetic clusters, and examined gene flow for the three target species on a countrywide scale using a combination of individual- and population-based analyses. Wild felids in Belize showed moderate levels of genetic variation, with jaguars having the lowest diversity estimates (HE = 0.57 ± 0.02; AR = 3.36 ± 0.09), followed by pumas (HE = 0.57 ± 0.08; AR = 4.20 ± 0.16), and ocelots (HE = 0.63 ± 0.03; AR = 4.16 ± 0.08). We observed low to moderate levels of genetic differentiation for all three target species, with jaguars showing the lowest degree of genetic subdivision across the country, followed by ocelots and pumas. Although levels of genetic diversity and gene flow were still fairly high, we detected evidence of fine-scale genetic subdivision, indicating that levels of genetic connectivity for wild felids in Belize are likely to decrease if habitat loss and fragmentation continue at the current rate. Our study demonstrates the value of understanding fine-scale patterns of gene flow in multiple co-occurring felid species of conservation concern, which is vital for wildlife movement corridor planning and prioritizing future conservation and management efforts within human-impacted landscapes.