We examined genetic variation, population structure, and definition of conservation units in Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis). Spotted Owls are mostly non-migratory, long-lived, socially monogamous birds that have decreased population viability due to their occupation of highly-fragmented late successional forests in western North America. To investigate potential effects of habitat fragmentation on population structure, we used random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) to examine genetic variation hierarchically among local breeding areas,
subregional groups, regional groups, and subspecies via sampling of 21 breeding areas (276 individuals) among the three subspecies of Spotted Owls. Data from 11 variable bands suggest a significant relationship between geographic distance among local breeding groups and genetic distance (Mantel r = 0.53, P < 0.02) although multi-dimensional scaling of three significant axes did not identify significant grouping at any hierarchical level. Similarly, neighbor-joining clustering of Manhattan distances indicated geographic structure at all levels and identified Mexican Spotted Owls as a distinct clade. RAPD analyses did not clearly differentiate Northern Spotted Owls from California Spotted Owls. Among Northern Spotted Owls, estimates of population differentiation (FST) ranged from 0.27 among breeding areas to 0.11 among regions. Concordantly, within-group agreement values estimated via multi-response permutation procedures of Jaccarda??s distances ranged from 0.22 among local sites
to 0.11 among regions. Pairwise comparisons of FST and geographic distance within regions suggested only the Klamath region was in equilibrium with respect to gene flow and genetic drift. Merging nuclear data with recent mitochondrial data provides support for designation of an Evolutionary Significant Unit for Mexican Spotted Owls and two overlapping Management Units for Northern and California Spotted Owls.
Additional publication details
Geographic variation and genetic structure in Spotted Owls