Intraspecific Comparison of Population Structure, Genetic Diversity, and Dispersal Among Three Subspecies of Townsend’s Big-Eared Bats, Corynorhinus townsendii townsendii, C. t. pallescens, and the Endangered C. t. birginianus
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Townsend’s big-eared bat, Corynorhinus townsendii, is distributed broadly across western North America and in two isolated, endangered populations in central and eastern United States. There are five subspecies of C. townsendii; C. t. pallescens, C. t. australis, C. t. townsendii, C. t. ingens, and C. t. virginianus with varying degrees of concern over the conservation status of each. The aim of this study was to use mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA data to examine genetic diversity, population differentiation, and dispersal of three C. townsendii subspecies. C. t. virginianus is found in isolated populations in the eastern United States and was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1979. Concern also exists about declining populations of two western subspecies, C. t. pallescens and C. t. townsendii. Using a comparative approach, estimates of the genetic diversity within populations of the endangered subspecies, C. t. virginianus, were found to be significantly lower than within populations of the two western subspecies. Further, both classes of molecular markers revealed significant differentiation among regional populations of C. t. virginianus with most genetic diversity distributed among populations. Genetic diversity was not significantly different between C. t. townsendii and C. t. pallescens. Some populations of C. t. townsendii are not genetically differentiated from populations of C. t. pallescens in areas of sympatry. For the western subspecies gene flow appears to occur primarily through male dispersal. Finally, geographic regions representing significantly differentiated and genetically unique populations of C. townsendii virginianus are recognized as distinct evolutionary significant units.