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Population genetic structure of wolves in the northwestern Dinaric-Balkan region

Citation

Šnjegota, Dragana et al. (2022), Population genetic structure of wolves in the northwestern Dinaric-Balkan region, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.ngf1vhhvt

Abstract

The Balkan Peninsula and the Dinaric Mountains possess extraordinary biodiversity and support one of the largest and most diverse wolf (Canis lupus) populations in Europe. Results obtained with diverse genetic markers show west-east substructure, also seen in various other species, despite the absence of obvious barriers to movement. However, the spatial extent of the genetic clusters remains unresolved, and our aim was to combine fine-scale sampling with population and spatial genetic analyses to improve resolution of wolf genetic clusters. We analyzed 16 autosomal microsatellites from 255 wolves sampled in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), and Serbia, and documented three genetic clusters. These comprised (1) Slovenia and the regions of Gorski kotar and Lika in Croatia, (2) the region of Dalmatia in southern Croatia and BIH, and (3) Serbia. When we mapped the clusters geographically, we observed west-east genetic structure across the study area, together with some specific structure in BIH – Dalmatia. We observed that cluster 1 had a smaller effective population size, consistent with earlier reports of population recovery since the 1980s. Our results provide foundation for future genomic studies that would further resolve the observed west-east population structure and its evolutionary history in wolves and other taxa in the region, and identify focal areas for habitat conservation. They also have immediate importance for conservation planning for the wolves in one of the most important parts of the species’ European range.

Funding