Genetic connectivity among swarming sites in the wide ranging and recently declining little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)

Ecol Evol. 2014 Nov;4(21):4130-49. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1266. Epub 2014 Oct 12.


Characterizing movement dynamics and spatial aspects of gene flow within a species permits inference on population structuring. As patterns of structuring are products of historical and current demographics and gene flow, assessment of structure through time can yield an understanding of evolutionary dynamics acting on populations that are necessary to inform management. Recent dramatic population declines in hibernating bats in eastern North America from white-nose syndrome have prompted the need for information on movement dynamics for multiple bat species. We characterized population genetic structure of the little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, at swarming sites in southeastern Canada using 9 nuclear microsatellites and a 292-bp region of the mitochondrial genome. Analyses of F ST, ΦST, and Bayesian clustering (STRUCTURE) found weak levels of genetic structure among swarming sites for the nuclear and mitochondrial genome (Global F ST = 0.001, P < 0.05, Global ΦST = 0.045, P < 0.01, STRUCTURE K = 1) suggesting high contemporary gene flow. Hierarchical AMOVA also suggests little structuring at a regional (provincial) level. Metrics of nuclear genetic structure were not found to differ between males and females suggesting weak asymmetries in gene flow between the sexes. However, a greater degree of mitochondrial structuring does support male-biased dispersal long term. Demographic analyses were consistent with past population growth and suggest a population expansion occurred from approximately 1250 to 12,500 BP, following Pleistocene deglaciation in the region. Our study suggests high gene flow and thus a high degree of connectivity among bats that visit swarming sites whereby mainland areas of the region may be best considered as one large gene pool for management and conservation.

Keywords: Chiroptera; Myotis; dispersal; genetic structure; mating; swarming.