Habitat selection predicts genetic relatedness in an alpine ungulate


Landscape heterogeneity plays an integral role in shaping ecological and evolutionary processes. Despite links between the two disciplines, ecologists and population geneticists have taken different approaches to evaluating habitat selection, animal movement, and gene flow across the landscape. Ecologists commonly use statistical models such as resource selection functions (RSFs) to identify habitat features disproportionately selected by animals, whereas population genetic approaches model genetic differentiation according to the distribution of habitat variables. We combined ecological and genetic approaches by using RSFs to predict genetic relatedness across a heterogeneous landscape. We constructed sex‐ and season‐specific resistance surfaces based on RSFs estimated using data from 102 GPS (global positioning system) radio‐collared mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in southeast Alaska, USA. Based on mountain goat ecology, we hypothesized that summer and male surfaces would be the best predictors of relatedness. All individuals were genotyped at 22 microsatellite loci, which we used to estimate genetic relatedness. Summer resistance surfaces derived from RSFs were the best predictors of genetic relatedness, and winter models the poorest. Mountain goats generally selected for areas close to escape terrain and with a high heat load (a metric related to vegetative productivity and snow depth), while avoiding valleys. Male‐ and female‐specific surfaces were similar, except for winter, for which male habitat selection better predicted genetic relatedness. The null models of isolation‐by‐distance and barrier only outperformed the winter models. This study merges high‐resolution individual locations through GPS telemetry and genetic data, that can be used to validate and parameterize landscape genetics models, and further elucidates the relationship between landscape heterogeneity and genetic differentiation.