Population subdivision among bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) ewes revealed by mitochondrial DNA analysis

Boyce WM, Ramey RR, Rodwell TC, Rubin ES, Singer RS
Molecular Ecology 8:99-106

We used behavioural observations and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence analysis to examine demographic and genetic structure within and among home-range groups of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) ewes in the Peninsular Ranges of southern California, USA. We identified substantial genetic variation in the first 515 bp of the mtDNA control region and determined that seven haplotypes were distributed in a nonrandom fashion among these ewe subpopulations. Although a significant (P < 0.01) amount of mtDNA variation (33%) was partitioned among home-range groups, we did not find strong evidence for matrilineal substructuring within these groups. Based on analyses of molecular variance, and comparisons of behavioural associations and distances between centres of activity, we concluded that within a given home-range group, bighorn sheep ewes generally associate with other ewes based on their availability rather than their matrilineal relationships. Our results also supported the conclusion that multiple ewe subpopulations exist within the Peninsular Ranges, and that these subpopulations are the most basic demographic and genetic units.