Differential permeability of rivers to raccoon gene flow corresponds to rabies incidence in Ontario, Canada
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The correlation of landscape features with genetic discontinuities reveals barriers to dispersal that can contribute to understanding present and future spread of wildlife diseases. This knowledge can then be used for targeting control efforts. The impact of natural barriers on raccoon dispersal was assessed through genetic analysis of samples from two regions, Niagara (N = 666) and St. Lawrence (N = 802). These areas are transected by major rivers and are at the northern front of a raccoon rabies epizootic. Genetic clusters were identified in each region using Bayesian clustering algorithms. In the Niagara region, two clusters were identified corresponding to either side of the Niagara River. For the St. Lawrence region, spatially congruent clusters were not identified, despite the presence of the intervening St. Lawrence River. These genetic data are consistent with raccoon rabies incidence data where rabies has been detected across the St. Lawrence River in Ontario while no cases have been detected in Ontario across the Niagara River. This is despite expectations of rabies incidence in Niagara before the St. Lawrence based on the progression of rabies from New York. The results from the two regions suggest different permeabilities to raccoons between New York and Ontario that may be attributed to the rivers. However, other factors have also been explored that could contribute to this difference between these study sites including the shape of the landscape and resource distribution.
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