Landscape connectivity among coastal giant salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) populations shows no association with land use, fire frequency, or river drainage but exhibits genetic signatures of potential conservation concern

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Determining the genetic consequences of both historical and contemporary events can clarify the effects of the environment on population connectivity and inform conservation decisions. Historical events (like glaciations) and contemporary factors (like logging) can disrupt gene flow between populations. This is especially true among species with specialized ecological requirements and low dispersal ability, like amphibians. We test for the genetic consequences of historical and contemporary disturbances in the coastal giant salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. We consider predictions based on the contemporary landscape (habitat connectivity, logging, forest fires, and topography), in addition to relatively ancient post-Pleistocene range expansion (following the last glacial retreat). To assess local versus larger-scale effects, we sampled 318 individuals across 23 sites, which were clustered in five sampling regions. Genetic variation was assessed using five microsatellite markers. We found evidence of (i) historical regional isolation, with decreased genetic diversity among more recently colonized northern sites, as well as (ii) high levels of inbreeding and loss of heterozygosity at local scales, despite relatively low overall population differentiation (FST) or strong evidence for population bottlenecks. Genetic diversity was not associated with contemporary disturbances (logging or fire), and there were no detectable effects on the genetic connectivity of populations based on intervening landscape features (habitat fragmentation and topography). However, lower genetic diversity in more northern regions indicates a lag in recovery of genetic diversity following post-Pleistocene expansion. Additionally, some populations had evidence of having undergone a recent genetic bottleneck or had high inbreeding (FIS) values. Lower genetic diversity in more northern sites means populations may be more vulnerable to future environmental changes, and managing for connectivity alone may not be sufficient given low mobility. Recent apparent reductions in some populations were not clearly linked to anthropogenic disturbances we examined. This suggests the type of disturbances this species is sensitive to may not be well understood.