Linking genotype, ecotype, and phenotype in an intensively managed large carnivore


Numerous factors influence fitness of free‐ranging animals, yet often these are uncharacterized. We integrated GPS habitat use data and genetic profiling to determine their influence on fitness proxies (mass, length, and body condition) in a threatened population of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in Alberta, Canada. We detected distinct genetic and habitat use (ecotype) clusters, with individual cluster assignments, or genotype/ecotype, being correlated (Pearson r = 0.34, P < 0.01). Related individuals showed evidence of similar habitat use patterns, irrespective of geographic distance and sex. Fitness proxies were influenced by sex, age, and habitat use, and homozygosity had a positive effect on these proxies that could be indicative of outbreeding depression. We further documented over 300 translocations occurring in the province since the 1970s, often to areas with significantly different habitat. We argue this could be unintentionally causing the pattern of outbreeding, although the heterozygosity correlation may instead be explained by the energetic costs associated with larger body size. The observed patterns, together with the unprecedented human‐mediated migrations, make understanding the link between genotype, ecotype, and phenotype and mechanisms behind the negative heterozygosity‐fitness correlations critical for management and conservation of this species.

Evolutionary Applications