Fine‐scale genetic correlates to condition and migration in a wild cervid


The relationship between genetic variation and phenotypic traits is fundamental to the study and management of natural populations. Such relationships often are investigated by assessing correlations between phenotypic traits and heterozygosity or genetic differentiation. Using an extensive data set compiled from free‐ranging mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), we combined genetic and ecological data to (i) examine correlations between genetic differentiation and migration timing, (ii) screen for mitochondrial haplotypes associated with migration timing, and (iii) test whether nuclear heterozygosity was associated with condition. Migration was related to genetic differentiation (more closely related individuals migrated closer in time) and mitochondrial haplogroup. Body fat was related to heterozygosity at two nuclear loci (with antagonistic patterns), one of which is situated near a known fat metabolism gene in mammals. Despite being focused on a widespread panmictic species, these findings revealed a link between genetic variation and important phenotypes at a fine scale. We hypothesize that these correlations are either the result of mixing refugial lineages or differential mitochondrial haplotypes influencing energetics. The maintenance of phenotypic diversity will be critical to enable the potential tracking of changing climatic conditions, and these correlates highlight the need to consider evolutionary mechanisms in management, even in widely distributed panmictic species.

Evolutionary Applications