Range-wide genetic structure of a cooperative mouse in a semi-arid zone: Evidence for panmixia

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Abstract

Landscape topography and the mobility of individuals will have fundamental impacts on a species' population structure, for example by enhancing or reducing gene flow and therefore influencing the effective size and genetic diversity of the population. However, social organization will also influence population genetic structure. For example, species that live and breed in cooperative groups may experience high levels of inbreeding and strong genetic drift. The western pebble-mound mouse (Pseudomys chapmani), which occupies a highly heterogeneous, semi-arid landscape in Australia, is an enigmatic social mammal that has the intriguing behaviour of working cooperatively in groups to build permanent pebble mounds above a subterranean burrow system. Here, we used both nuclear (microsatellite) and mitochondrial (mtDNA) markers to analyse the range-wide population structure of western pebble-mound mice sourced from multiple social groups. We observed high levels of genetic diversity at the broad scale, very weak genetic differentiation at a finer scale and low levels of inbreeding. Our genetic analyses suggest that the western pebble-mound mouse population is both panmictic and highly viable. We conclude that high genetic connectivity across the complex landscape is a consequence of the species' ability to permeate their environment, which may be enhanced by "boom-bust" population dynamics driven by the semi-arid climate. More broadly, our results highlight the importance of sampling strategies to infer social structure and demonstrate that sociality is an important component of population genetic structure.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes

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