As anthropogenic disturbances continue to drive habitat loss and range contractions, the maintenance of evolutionary processes will increasingly require targeting measures to the population level, even for common and widespread species. Doing so requires detailed knowledge of population genetic structure, both to identify populations of conservation need and value, as well as to evaluate suitability of potential donor populations. We conducted a range-wide analysis of the genetic structure of red foxes in the contiguous western U.S., including a federally endangered distinct population segment of the Sierra Nevada subspecies, with the objectives of contextualizing field observations of relative scarcity in the Pacific mountains and increasing abundance in the cold desert basins of the Intermountain West. Using 31 autosomal microsatellites, along with mitochondrial and Y-chromosome markers, we found that populations of the Pacific mountains were isolated from one another and genetically depauperate (e.g., estimated Ne range = 3–9). In contrast, red foxes in the Intermountain regions showed relatively high connectivity and genetic diversity. Although most Intermountain red foxes carried indigenous western matrilines (78%) and patrilines (85%), the presence of nonindigenous haplotypes at lower elevations indicated admixture with fur-farm foxes and possibly expanding midcontinent populations as well. Our findings suggest that some Pacific mountain populations could likely benefit from increased connectivity (i.e., genetic rescue) but that nonnative admixture makes expanding populations in the Intermountain basins a non-ideal source. However, our results also suggest contact between Pacific mountain and Intermountain basin populations is likely to increase regardless, warranting consideration of risks and benefits of proactive measures to mitigate against unwanted effects of Intermountain gene flow.
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