Genetic structure and genetic diversity are key population characteristics that can inform conservation decisions, such as delineating management units or assessing potential risks for inbreeding depression. Evidence of genetic structuring or low genetic diversity in the critically endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus) would have implications for monitoring and planning decisions. Recent work on understanding connectivity across the snail kite range indicated that there is less dispersal between northern and southern parts of the current range, and that dispersal is shaped by individual habitat preference. We examine whether there is neutral genetic structure and the amount of genetic variation in the population by non-lethally sampling 235 nestlings from unique nests across the entire breeding range between 2013 and 2014. Data on 15 microsatellite revealed low diversity (e.g., Na?=?2.54, He?=?0.37) and range-wide panmixia based on AMOVA, Bayesian clustering, spatial autocorrelation, isolation by distance, and spatially explicit ordination analyses. Our results emphasize that long-term recovery goals and management strategies should be based on viewing snail kites as a single genetic population, despite evidence for non-random dispersal between wetlands over ecological time scales. These results also highlight the need to understand potential effects of low genetic diversity on population dynamics and viability of snail kites. More broadly, these results add to the growing evidence for potential discrepancies between dispersal and genetic patterns, emphasizing that care should be taken if using one to interpret the other, particularly for widely-ranging species.
Journal: Conservation genetics