Evaluating taxonomic classification of two fox squirrel subspecies (Sciurus niger niger and S. n. shermani) using molecular genetics
Todd, Rebecca Rae
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Sciurus niger niger and Sciurus niger shermani share similar habitat and have similar morphology, raising questions about the validity of the subspecies designations. Sciurus niger shermani is of conservation concern in Georgia and Florida, primarily due to habitat loss and uncertainty about population status. Clarification of the taxonomic relationship between these taxa is critical in developing appropriate conservation strategies. I developed novel microsatellite markers and sequenced the mitochondrial d-loop region to investigate genetic diversity and differentiation among populations of the subspecies in Georgia and Florida and examined genetic support for the taxonomic distinction. Consistent with previous studies, I found a lack of phylogeographic structure, but genetic variation among populations showed evidence of population structure. The observed population structure could be due to isolation by distance or it could be an artifact of small sample sizes from several populations. My results are not consistent with a separate taxonomic distinction at the subspecies level, but further studies are needed to examine the genetic variability documented in these populations in the context of other southeastern U.S. subspecies and populations.