Abstract: Recent studies suggest that patterns of genetic diversity significantly influence the viability and persistence of local populations. Revealing and mapping spatial patterns of genetic diversity within species’ ranges may be vital when defining criteria and prioritizing areas for conservation. Chukar Partridges (Alectoris chukar) in Israel occur along a steep ecogeographical gradient extending from mesic Mediterranean zones in the north to steppe and desert regions in the south. To test the hypothesis that the most genetically diverse populations within a species’ range occur within the ecotone, an area of transition between ecosystems where a sharp environmental gradient exists, we examined the allozyme diversity of chukars collected at five locations within the species’ continuous range in each of 2 years. Based on 32 allozyme loci, the genetic diversity of chukars increased significantly along a gradient from populations in Mediterranean regions to those at the ecotone in the northern Negev desert, despite close geographical proximity among populations. Genetic diversity as estimated by percent polymorphic loci, observed and expected heterozygosity, and mean number of alleles was not homogeneous among sampling localities: single and multilocus Hardy‐Weinberg and linkage disequilibria increased along the gradient toward the ecotone. Populations exhibited some isolation by distance effects in the face of substantial gene flow. We therefore recommend that higher conservation priority be assigned to the Mediterranean‐Negev ecotone area. For Chukar Partridges, it supports the highest overall genetic diversity as well as unique alleles. Priorities for other populations, moreover, can also be set based on their genetic diversity across ecological gradients. Rapid urbanization of Israeli landscapes threatens to disrupt unique and perhaps essential genetic connections among chukar populations, and management of chukars in Israel within a metapopulation context is an urgent requirement.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Jun 1, 1999
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