Spatial genetic analysis of coyotes in New York State
The robust dispersal capability of the coyote (Canis latrans) would suggest a pattern of widespread gene flow across North America, yet historical legacies, dispersal barriers, and habitat affinities may produce or reinforce genetic structure. In the northeastern United States, some coyotes carry genetic signatures from past hybridization events with eastern wolves (C. lupus lycaon). These so-called "coywolves" may have differential predation or competitive success compared with the western origin coyotes with whom they share the contemporary landscape. We sampled coyote populations from New York (n=156) and Wyoming, USA (n=8) in 2006-2007 and from South Carolina, USA, in 2010 and confirmed regional genetic structure among these coyote populations. Then, within the putative contact zone between the northeastern and western coyote colonization fronts (New York State), we evaluated evidence for broad- and fine-sale genetic structure, and a genetic gradient among New York coyotes using a suite of spatial genetic analyses. Although broad-scale analyses indicated New York coyotes were highly intermixed, subtle isolation-by-distance was detected, and local spatial autocorrelation indicated potentially shorter dispersal distances and larger group sizes for coyotes in the Northeastern Highlands (Adirondack Mountains and foothills). Yet we failed to detect a distinct contact zone between 2 coyote types in New York, indicating that local abundance and ecological context rather than genetic lineage are likely to determine the local ecological effects of coyotes in this region. We suggest that the contact zone between coyote colonization fronts has either eroded or moved further south.