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conservation genomics, genetic drift, genotype-environment associations, local adaptation, population divergence, Utah prairie dog


Utah prairie dogs (Cynomys parvidens) are federally threatened due to eradication campaigns, habitat destruction, and outbreaks of plague. Today, Utah prairie dogs exist in small, isolated populations, making them less demographically stable and more susceptible to erosion of genetic variation by genetic drift. We characterized patterns of genetic structure at neutral and putatively adaptive loci in order to evaluate the relative effects of genetic drift and local adaptation on population divergence. We sampled individuals across the Utah prairie dog species range and generated 2,955 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) using double digest restriction site associated DNA sequencing (ddRAD). Genetic diversity was lower in low elevation sites compared to high elevation sites. Population divergence was high among sites and followed an isolation-by-distance (IBD) model. Our results indicate that genetic drift plays a substantial role in the population divergence of the Utah prairie dog, and colonies would likely benefit from translocation of individuals between recovery units, which are characterized by distinct elevations, despite the detection of environmental associations with outlier loci. By understanding the processes that shape genetic structure, better informed decisions can be made with respect to the management of threatened species to ensure that adaptation is not stymied.