Limited gene flow and pronounced population genetic structure of Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in a Midwestern prairie remnant

Whitney J.B. Anthonysamy, Michael J. Dreslik, Sarah J. Baker, Mark A. Davis, Marlis R. Douglas, Michael E. Douglas, Christopher A. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As anthropogenic changes continue to ecologically stress wildlife, obtaining measures of gene flow and genetic diversity are crucial for evaluating population trends and considering management and conservation strategies for small, imperiled populations. In our study, we conducted a molecular assessment to expand on previous work to elucidate patterns of diversity and connectivity in the remaining disjunct Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) hibernacula in Illinois. We assayed genetic data for 327 samples collected during 1999-2015 from the Carlyle Lake study area across 21 microsatellite loci. We found hibernacula formed distinct genetic clusters corresponding to the three main study areas (Dam Recreation Areas, Eldon Hazlet State Park, and South Shore State Park). Genetic structuring and low estimates of dispersal indicated that connectivity among these study areas is limited and each is demographically independent. Hibernacula exhibited moderate levels of heterozygosity (0.60-0.73), but estimates of effective population size (5.2-41.0) were low and track census sizes generated via long-term mark-recapture data. Hibernacula at Carlyle Lake, which represent the only Eastern Massasauga remaining in Illinois, are vulnerable to future loss of genetic diversity through lack of gene flow as well as demographic and environmental stochastic processes. Our work highlights the need to include population-level genetic data in recovery planning and suggests that recovery efforts should focus on managing the three major study areas as separate conservation units in order to preserve and maintain long-term adaptive potential of these populations. Specific management goals should include improving connectivity among hibernacula, maintaining existing wet grassland habitat, and minimizing anthropogenic sources of mortality caused by habitat management (e.g., mowing, prescribed fire) and recreational activities. Our molecular study provides additional details about demographic parameters and connectivity at Carlyle Lake that can be used to guide recovery of Eastern Massasauga in Illinois and throughout its range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0265666
JournalPloS one
Issue number3 March
StatePublished - Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Limited gene flow and pronounced population genetic structure of Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in a Midwestern prairie remnant'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this