Webinar: Hierarchical Population Structure in Greater Sage-grouse Provides insight into Management Boundary Delineation

We believe that the best results depend on empowering all of our partners to put conservation practices on the ground. Todd Cross, an SGI-funded scientist, explains his recent research mapping genetic diversity within Montana's sage grouse populations. Photo by Brianna Randall

Photo by Brianna Randall: Todd Cross explains his research on genetic diversity within Montana sage grouse populations.

When: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016  | 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM MST

Host: Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Presenter:  Todd Cross, University of Montana and USFS National Genomics Lab for Wildlife & Fish Conservation (SGI-sponsored scientist)

Description: We genotyped 1499 greater sage- grouse from 297 leks across Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota using a 15-locus microsatellite panel, then examined spatial autocorrelation, spatial principal components analysis, and hierarchical Bayesian clustering to identify population structure. Our results show that at distances of up to 240 km individuals exhibit greater genetic similarity than expected by chance, suggesting that the cumulative effect of short-range dispersal translates to long-range connectivity. We also found two levels of hierarchical genetic subpopulation structure. These subpopulations occupy significantly different elevations and are surrounded by divergent vegetative communities with different dominant subspecies of sagebrush, each with distinct terpene defense.

We propose five management groups reflective of genetic structure. These genetic groups are largely coincident with existing priority areas for conservation. On average, 85.8% of individuals within each conservation priority area assign to a distinct subpopulation. Our results largely support existing management decisions regarding subpopulation boundaries.

Learn more: New Research Provides Insights into Sage Grouse DNA


The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.