Exploring dispersal barriers using landscape genetic resistance modelling in scarlet macaws of the Peruvian Amazon

George Olah, Annabel L. Smith, Gregory P. Asner, Donald J. Brightsmith, Robert G. Heinsohn, Rod Peakall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Context: Dispersal is essential for species persistence and landscape genetic studies are valuable tools for identifying potential barriers to dispersal. Macaws have been studied for decades in their natural habitat, but we still have no knowledge of how natural landscape features influence their dispersal. Objectives: We tested for correlations between landscape resistance models and the current population genetic structure of macaws in continuous rainforest to explore natural barriers to their dispersal. Methods: We studied scarlet macaws (Ara macao) over a 13,000 km2 area of continuous primary Amazon rainforest in south-eastern Peru. Using remote sensing imagery from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, we constructed landscape resistance surfaces in CIRCUITSCAPE based on elevation, canopy height and above-ground carbon distribution. We then used individual- and population-level genetic analyses to examine which landscape features influenced gene flow (genetic distance between individuals and populations). Results: Across the lowland rainforest we found limited population genetic differentiation. However, a population from an intermountain valley of the Andes (Candamo) showed detectable genetic differentiation from two other populations (Tambopata) located 20–60 km away (FST = 0.008, P = 0.001–0.003). Landscape resistance models revealed that genetic distance between individuals was significantly positively related to elevation. Conclusions: Our landscape resistance analysis suggests that mountain ridges between Candamo and Tambopata may limit gene flow in scarlet macaws. These results serve as baseline data for continued landscape studies of parrots, and will be useful for understanding the impacts of anthropogenic dispersal barriers in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-456
Number of pages12
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Andes
  • Barriers
  • Dispersal
  • Feathers
  • LiDAR
  • Microsatellites
  • Movement ecology
  • Neotropics
  • Population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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