The newly described Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) is a species of concern for management because of marked declines in distribution and abundance due to the loss and fragmentation of sagebrush habitat. This has caused remaining populations to be unusually small and isolated. We utilized mitochondrial DNA sequence data and data from 8 nuclear microsatellites to assess the extent of population subdivision among Gunnison sage-grouse populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, USA. We found a high degree of population structure and low amounts of gene flow among all pairs of populations except the geographically adjacent Gunnison and Curecanti populations. Population structure for Gunnison sage-grouse was significantly higher than has been reported for greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus). Further, we documented low levels of genetic diversity in some populations (particularly Dove Creek/Monticello and Piñon Mesa with an average of only 3.00 and 2.13 alleles per locus respectively) indicating that translocations from larger, more genetically diverse populations may be warranted. Bayesian analysis identified 3 potential migrants (involving San Miguel, Dove Creek/Monticello, Crawford, and Curecanti). Further, this analysis showed that 4 individuals from Cerro/Cimarron were more closely related to birds from San Miguel than to its geographically closer neighbors Gunnison and Curecanti. This suggests the Cerro/Cimarron area may act as a stepping stone for gene flow between San Miguel and Gunnison and that habitat restoration and protection in areas between these 2 basins should be a priority in an attempt to facilitate natural movement among these populations. Conservation plans should include monitoring and maintaining genetic diversity, preventing future habitat loss and fragmentation, enhancing existing habitat, and restoring converted sagebrush communities.
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Vol. 69 • No. 2