The giant garter snake, Thamnophis gigas, is a threatened species endemic to California's Central Valley. We tested the hypothesis that current watershed boundaries have caused genetic differentiation among populations of T. gigas. We sampled 14 populations throughout the current geographic range of T. gigas and amplified 859 bp from the mitochondrial gene ND4 and one nuclear microsatellite locus. DNA sequence variation from the mitochondrial gene indicates there is some genetic structuring of the populations, with high F ST values and unique haplotypes occurring at high frequency in several populations. We found that clustering populations by watershed boundary results in significant between-region genetic variance for mtDNA. However, analysis of allele frequencies at the microsatellite locus NSU3 reveals very low F ST values and little between-region variation in allele frequencies. The discordance found between mitochondrial and microsatellite data may be explained by aspects of molecular evolution and/or T. gigas life history characteristics. Differences in effective population size between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, or male-biased gene flow, result in a lower migration rate of mitochondrial haplotypes relative to nuclear alleles. However, we cannot exclude homoplasy as one explanation for homogeneity found for the single microsatellite locus. The mitochondrial nucleotide sequence data supports conservation practices that identify separate management units for T. gigas. ?? Springer 2006.
Additional publication details
Population structure of the giant garter snake, Thamnophis gigas