Basto, M.P., Santos-Reis, M., Simões, L., Grilo, C., Cardoso, L., Cortes, H., Bruford, M.W. & Fernandes, C. (2016) Assessing genetic structure in common but ecologically distinct carnivores: the stone marten and red fox.PLOS One, 11(1), e0145165. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0145165 (IF2016 2,806; Q1 Multidisciplinary Sciences)
The identification of populations and spatial genetic patterns is important for ecological and conservation research, and spatially explicit individual-based methods have been recognised as powerful tools in this context. Mammalian carnivores are intrinsically vulnerable to habitat fragmentation but not much is known about the genetic consequences of fragmentation in common species. Stone martens (Martes foina) and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) share a widespread Palearctic distribution and are considered habitat generalists, but in the Iberian Peninsula stone martens tend to occur in higher quality habitats. We compared their genetic structure in Portugal to see if they are consistent with their differences in ecological plasticity, and also to illustrate an approach to explicitly delineate the spatial boundaries of consistently identified genetic units. We analysed microsatellite data using spatial Bayesian clustering methods (implemented in the software BAPS, GENELAND and TESS), a progressive partitioning approach and a multivariate technique (Spatial Principal Components Analysis-sPCA). Three consensus Bayesian clusters were identified for the stone marten. No consensus was achieved for the red fox, but one cluster was the most probable clustering solution. Progressive partitioning and sPCA suggested additional clusters in the stone marten but they were not consistent among methods and were geographically incoherent. The contrasting results between the two species are consistent with the literature reporting stricter ecological requirements of the stone marten in the Iberian Peninsula. The observed genetic structure in the stone marten may have been influenced by landscape features, particularly rivers, and fragmentation. We suggest that an approach based on a consensus clustering solution of multiple different algorithms may provide an objective and effective means to delineate potential boundaries of inferred subpopulations. sPCA and progressive partitioning offer further verification of possible population structure and may be useful for revealing cryptic spatial genetic patterns worth further investigation.