The scale of genetic differentiation in the Dunes Sagebrush-Lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus), an endemic habitat specialist
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The Dunes Sagebrush-Lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus) is a North American species endemic to sand-shinnery oak habitats of the Mescalero and Monahans sand dunes in eastern New Mexico and western Texas. This lizard is listed as Endangered in New Mexico and exhibits habitat specificity at several geographic scales. Dunes Sagebrush-Lizards are only found in topographically complex shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) dominated landscapes within their small geographic distribution and are not found in surrounding human-altered landscapes. Within suitable sand-shinnery oak habitat, individuals predominantly occupy non-vegetated sand dune blowouts and utilize blowouts with particular physical characteristics due to thermoregulatory, reproduction, and foraging requirements. Here, we examined historical and contemporary patterns of genetic differentiation with respect to the current distribution of suitable habitat at multiple spatial scales using mitochondrial DNA sequences and microsatellite data from individuals throughout the entire range. We found three genetic clusters of individuals generally concordant with geographic regions and low sequence divergence at mitochondrial loci suggesting a recent origin of these populations. We also found high levels of genetic structure at microsatellite loci among populations within each of these groups indicating restricted gene flow at intermediate scales. Despite high habitat specificity, we did not detect genetic structure among sand blowouts at finer spatial scales. Within each population, matrices comprised of both sand blowouts and vegetated shinnery oak patches are necessary for genetic connectivity, but the fine scale spatial arrangement of blowouts may not be as critical. We discuss our results with respect to the scale of landscape heterogeneity and habitat connectivity and consider the conservation implications for this threatened taxon. 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.