For endangered species that persist as apparently isolated populations within a previously more extensive range, the degree of genetic exchange between those populations is critical to conservation and management. A lack of gene flow can exacerbate impacts of threatening processes and delay or prevent colonization of sites after local extirpation. The broad-headed snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides, is a small venomous species restricted to a handful of disjunct reserves near Sydney, Australia. Mark-recapture studies have indicated low vagility for this ambush predator, suggesting that gene flow also may be low. However, our analyses of 11 microsatellite loci from 163 snakes collected inMortonNational Park, from six sites within a 10-km diameter, suggest relatively high rates of gene flow among sites. Most populations exchange genes with each other, with one large population serving as a source area and smaller populations apparently acting as sinks. About half of the juvenile snakes, for which we could reliably infer parentage, were collected from populations other than those in which we collected their putative parents. As expected from the snakes' reliance on rocky outcrops during cooler months of the year, most gene flow appears to be along sandstone plateaux rather than across the densely forested valleys that separate plateaux. The unexpectedly high rates of gene flow on a landscape scale are encouraging for future conservation of this endangered taxon. For example, wildlife managers could conserve broad-headed snakes by restoring habitats near extant source populations in areas predicted to be least affected by future climate change.
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- conservation genetics
- parentage analyses
- microsatellite loci