Urbanization can result in the fragmentation of once contiguous natural landscapes into a patchy habitat interspersed within a growing urban matrix. Animals living in fragmented landscapes often have reduced movement among habitat patches because of avoidance of intervening human development, which potentially leads to both reduced gene flow and pathogen transmission between patches. Mammalian carnivores with large home ranges, such as bobcats (Lynx rufus), may be particularly sensitive to habitat fragmentation. We performed genetic analyses on bobcats and their directly transmitted viral pathogen, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), to investigate the effects of urbanization on bobcat movement. We predicted that urban development, including major freeways, would limit bobcat movement and result in genetically structured host and pathogen populations. We analysed molecular markers from 106 bobcats and 19 FIV isolates from seropositive animals in urban southern California. Our findings indicate that reduced gene flow between two primary habitat patches has resulted in genetically distinct bobcat subpopulations separated by urban development including a major highway. However, the distribution of genetic diversity among FIV isolates determined through phylogenetic analyses indicates that pathogen genotypes are less spatially structured--exhibiting a more even distribution between habitat fragments. We conclude that the types of movement and contact sufficient for disease transmission occur with enough frequency to preclude structuring among the viral population, but that the bobcat population is structured owing to low levels of effective bobcat migration resulting in gene flow. We illustrate the utility in using multiple molecular markers that differentially detect movement and gene flow between subpopulations when assessing connectivity.
Additional publication details
Gene flow and pathogen transmission among bobcats (Lynx rufus) in a fragmented urban landscape