Identification of Ontario fisher (Martes pennanti) metapopulations and their source-sink relationships: Using landscape genetics for the development of novel management practices.
Study Area and Field Collection:
Approximately 30 townships have been sampled including Algonquin Provincial Park, smaller provincial parks, primary heritage sites, conservation areas, and non-designated regions to reflect a spectrum of different land type uses. Also, sample sites in-between these areas have been selected to best demonstrate animal origin and movements within the connecting landscape of our study site.
Field collection of samples was achieved through government scientist research collaborators in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) who have access to samples in-house and those kept by managers in townships during the trapping season. Historic fisher samples were acquired from collections at the Royal Ontario Museum.

DNA Marker Development and DNA Profiling:
The development of a fine resolution measurement of genetic diversity will require using 30 to 40 microsatellite loci. Large-scale high-throughput genotyping represents a significant advantage economically in regards to decreasing the number of costly experimental reactions and minimizing the time spent running reactions.

Landscape Genetics:
The goal of the landscape genetics investigation will be to identify the genetic structure of fisher populations in Ontario and to identify differential land use, the effects of parks, and areas of high gene flow (source-sinks). Individual assignment-based tests will be used to determine genetic membership groupings and whether an individual fisher was in the geographic area it had genetic membership to or whether it was found in an area inhabited by a different genetic membership group. Being able to identify individual movement patterns will allow us to better quantify the level of immigration (from source to sinks) taking place in particular townships.

The current Ontario fisher population has expanded beyond its historical range and this expansion provides an opportunity to observe some interesting and timely correlations. For instance, a relationship between habitat quality and number of fisher immigrants may be seen; to the extent that, high numbers of immigrants into a specific area may be indicative of habitat quality. Juvenile and fishers unsuccessful in competing for prime habitat will have no other choice than to occupy poor quality habitat; therefore, a association between habitat quality and proportional number of immigrants may be observed.

Short Term:
The short-term goals of the study are predominantly based on the development of the genetic analysis techniques, early identification of population structure, and the creation of geographical information system (GIS) models to interpret the landscape genetic results.

1) The development of 30-40 loci as genetic markers for fishers through semi-automated robotic protocols.
2) The development of several multiplex reactions (combined genotyping reactions) enabling high throughput profiling of fisher samples.
3) Determining the number and geographic location of Ontario fisher populations
(genetic memberships).
4) Development of predictive models that will identify possible source-sink dynamics, based on directional movements of metapopulations, and identify potential migration corridors.
5) Examine the effects of differing degrees of habitat fragmentation.

Long Term:

The long term goals of the study are to create information management systems that enable clients and researchers access to explore the landscape genetics findings and enable them to use this information as a tool to enhance their ability to manage fisher populations.

1) Development of a fisher database housing all sample information (i.e. location, DNA extraction date, genetic profile, population analysis) incorporated into the NRDPFC database.
2) Integration of the fisher database into an existing GIS/Query web interface for clients (forest and wildlife managers in both industry and government) and research partners, that will provide a map display of features (layers): samples collected; sample distribution in relation to landscape features; and DNA profiles.
3) The ability of the interface to provide wildlife managers with current and future fisher landscape genetics information in order to accurately predict areas in need of increased or decreased trapping efforts to sustain desired fur harvests.
4) Examine the importance of Ontario’s parks and heritage sites in sustaining healthy source populations of fishers.
5) Evaluation of the continuum of effectiveness between microsatellite and radiotelemetry analysis of fisher home range distribution and dispersal (in conjunction with the an OMNR fisher radiotelemetry study in Bancroft).
6) Provide a model for future researchers to investigate population dynamics of study species and the methods to develop potential management practices.


Dr. Paul Wilson (co-supervisor)
Dr. Jeff Bowman (co-supervisor)
Dr. Dennis Murray (committee)
Dr. Bruce Pond (committee)

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