Genetic structure of mountain lion (Puma concolor) populations in California

Holly B Ernest, Walter M Boyce, Vernon C. Bleich, Bernie May, San J. Stiver, Steven G. Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Analysis of 12 microsatellite loci from 431 mountain lions (Puma concolor) revealed distinct genetic subdivision that was associated with geographic barriers and isolation by distance in California. Levels of genetic variation differed among geographic regions, and mountain lions that inhabited coastal areas exhibited less heterozygosity than those sampled inland. The San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Central Valley, and the Los Angeles Basin appeared to be substantial barriers to gene flow, and allele frequencies of populations separated by those features differed substantially. A partial barrier to gene flow appeared to exist along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Estimated gene flow was high among mountain lions inhabiting the Modoc Plateau, the western Sierra Nevada, and northern section of the eastern Sierra Nevada. Southern California mountain lion populations may function as a metapopulation; however, human developments threaten to eliminate habitat and movement corridors. While north-south gene flow along the western Sierra Nevada was estimated to be very high, projected loss and fragmentation of foothill habitat may reduce gene flow and subdivide populations. Preservation of existing movement corridors among regions could prevent population declines and loss of genetic variation. This study shows that mountain lion management and conservation efforts should be individualized according to region and incorporate landscape-level considerations to protect habitat connectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-366
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2003


  • Cougar
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic subdivision
  • Microsatellite
  • Population structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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